Here's Our Trash Can for Most Plastic

2K truckloads of plastic end up in the ocean every day, but not everyone shares the burden
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2024 5:00 PM CDT
Here's Our Trash Can for Most Plastic
A beverage bottle on the sand in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.   (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Now that we know which companies are tied to the most identifiable branded plastic in the ocean (hello, Coke and Pepsi), here's a friendly reminder of how much of it ends up clogging up our waterways every day. CNN reports that an estimated 2,000 truckloads of plastic make their way into the ocean every day (that's more than a truckload per minute), amounting to 400 million metric tons. In a stunning photo essay, photographer Edu Ponces captures mountains of plastic waste in the places it often ends up—Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Thailand. Some of it washes up on beaches, and in other cases, is shipped for processing from China, Europe, and the US.

Along with littering beaches in giant mounds that wash ashore, plastic disrupts local fishing, an industry that threatens people's livelihood and food security. Java fisherman Rahmat Hidayat said fewer fish are coming back, but plastic is a common catch. He and his colleagues spend hours separating plastic from their fish when the day is over. Ponces noted that single-use plastic is often inescapable, and any simple purchase can add to the pile. "I finished taking these photos and went to the convenience store and bought a sandwich packed in plastic, and I realized I was also part of the problem," Ponces says. "We all need to change this."

Some plastic products cannot be recycled at all, and only 9% of plastic makes it into a recycling center. The rest ends up in landfills, waste incinerators, or eventually the ocean. Indonesia is working toward a solution to only accept plastic shipments that are fully recyclable, while Thailand will cease incoming plastic waste from other countries by 2025. The EU is working out the particulars of a ban on exporting trash to other countries, per the Guardian. "We follow our vision that waste is a resource when it is properly managed, but should not in any case be causing harm to the environment or human health," says European Parliament member Pernille Weiss. On a global scale, a summit on how to cut plastic waste off from its source—the fossil fuels industry and inside product manufacturing—is taking place in Ottawa. (How much plastic packaging ends up in our bodies?)

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