The massive ocean plastic problem
11 to 14 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year, expected to be 29 million annually by 2040 (source: ‘Breaking the Plastic Wave by PEW Charitable Trusts and Systemiq.)
Just to be very clear on those numbers: The weight of an adult blue whale can be as much as 190 tons. So imagine the masses of waste that equal 70,000 blue whales entering the oceans - year, after year, after year.
How is this even possible?
How does this incredible, massive amount of waste even reach our oceans?
It is essential to know that most countries in the world don’t have a waste collection system.
There is a vast gap between the waste that people generate and the trash disposed of properly.
In developing countries, the main problem areas are often:
500,000 people per day need to be connected to the waste collection system by 2040 to close this collection gap (source: ‘Breaking the Plastic Wave by PEW Charitable Trusts and Systemiq.) and prevent more tonnes of plastic from polluting our oceans. That’s the size of Kansas City in the US.
A common misconception is that the best way to solve the ocean plastic problem is by collecting plastic from the oceans or the environment itself.
While initiatives like these are significant they are difficult and costly to scale. One problem here is the material itself: plastic is extremely light weighted. For instance, one empty crisp bag weighs only 3 grams. Imagine how long it takes a waste picker to collect 1kg of it - yet 11 million tonnes.
In an ideal world, plastic wouldn’t end up in the environment in the first place but would be collected and disposed of correctly and as environmentally friendly as possible right away.
But reality shows us that most of the plastic waste that gets collected ends up in unmanaged systems, like uncontrolled landfills. Or it’s just being dumped back into the environment or burned in backyards and on the streets.
The Sustainable Solution
Waste collection can and should be managed more efficiently, with better working conditions for waste collectors and the best possible benefit for the environment.While beach cleanups and the cleaning of waterways are super important, the most efficient and financially sustainable way to solve plastic pollution is to build up working waste collection infrastructure.
One solution is to tackle the problem directly where it is generated: in the households. For this, Cleanhub partners with Green Worms, a social enterprise from Kerala, India.
With door-to-door collection services, the women-led workforce intercepts the waste as close to the source as possible. Like that, they can ensure that the material does not end up in the environment or illegal dump yards again. To make this process work on a larger scale, we need to make sure that as many organisations as possible choose to work with Cleanhub and their partners in the future to drive action for clean oceans.