10 facts about plastic waste in southeast asia
The Philippines recently made headlines when they sent nearly 70 cargoes of imported refuse from Canada. But the Philippines is not alone in their rejection of plastic waste from the developed world. Countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand have followed in China’s footsteps to establish a total ban on plastic imports. What is the broader story behind these import bans? What will Canada do with their 70 cargoes of waste? To answer these questions, here are 10 facts about plastic waste in Southeast Asia.

10 Facts About Plastic Waste in Southeast Asia

  1. Worldwide Production: Worldwide production of plastics reached 381 million tons of plastics in 2015, nearly doubling from 213 million tons of plastics in 2000. The packaging industry accounts for nearly 141 million tons of plastic production.
  2. Low Recycling Rates: Only 9% of all plastic is recycled, while 79% heads straight to landfills. Another 12% is incinerated. This means that of the estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic existing in the natural world or in landfills worldwide, only 500 million tons are recycled.
  3. Waste per Capita: China ranks the highest in overall plastic waste disposal, generating an average of around 59.08 million tons of plastic per year. Other Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines dispose between 2.5 and 5 million tons of plastic. Comparably, the United States produces an astounding 37.83 million tons of plastic waste, making it the country with the highest political waste per capita ratio. This fact, among these 10 facts about plastic waste in Southeast Asia, highlights that waste management cannot be considered a purely regional issue. It is a global issue.
  4. Plastic Management: Countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and other low-income countries have the highest shares of plastic waste that is deemed inadequately mismanaged. Just five countries–China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam–produce half of all plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
  5. Growing Alarm: The growing amount of plastic is alarming for many reasons. According to a WasteAid report, nearly 9 million people die each year from diseases related to waste pollutants. There is also a growing concern that microplastics found in the tissues of fish could be dangerous to human health. Additionally, tons of plastic are diverted to dumpsites, which could contribute to 8-10% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
  6. Huge Imports: While Southeast Asian countries are culpable for mismanaged plastic waste and contamination of the worlds’ oceans, they also import more plastic waste than any other region in the world. Before its ban on plastic, China imported 6.4 million tons of plastic waste in 2017. In the last quarter of 2018, the UK alone exported nearly 18,000 tons of plastic waste to Malaysia.
  7. The US Plays a Key Role: Plastic waste and pollution particularly in Southeast Asia is a problem of poverty and represents a broader dynamic between the developed and developing world. In 2018, the United States sent an equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of plastic to developing countries who already mismanaged 70% of plastic waste. Workers in places like Vietnam sort contaminated, hazardous plastic waste from the U.S. in poor working conditions for meager pay.
  8. Impact of a Total Ban: With the recent rollbacks on plastic imports to the poorly regulated shores of Southeast Asia, researchers believe China’s ban alone displaced 120 million tons of plastic in 2017. Thailand has followed suit, stating that it will enforce a total ban on plastics by 2021. The introduction of these bans ironically has Australia, Canada, and European countries, facing growing piles of low-quality plastic scraps, a problem they can no longer export away.
  9. World Bank Initiatives: The World Bank has confronted poverty and lack of infrastructure as one of the main ways to address the colossal problem of plastic waste and its relationship to poverty and poor regulations in developing countries. The World Bank has committed $4.7 billion to more than 340 solid waste management programs to improve waste disposal methods in predominantly developing countries. They particularly seek to bolster waste disposal infrastructure, legal regulations, and health and safety, among others.
  10. A Shifting Paradigm: In the developed world, import bans have forced countries like the U.S. to renew investments in recycling infrastructure and public education on issues of plastic waste. Some states have imposed strict regulations on plastic production and consumption, and with more public awareness and subsequent political pressure, more states can follow. On a corporate level, companies like Intel, Eaton, and Texas Instruments recycle more than 85% of their waste, hopefully, with more to follow.

In developed countries, one of the main ways to mitigate this issue is to limit the consumption of plastic products and review the laws that have allowed the harmful trade of plastic waste to places like the Philippines. In developing countries, banning contaminated plastic waste the first step in ensuring that every country takes responsibility for their own waste. These 10 facts about plastic waste in Southeast Asia highlight the numerous components in this growing crisis.

Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr

Child Vision: Glasses for Children in Impoverished CountriesThere are 100 million young people in the world that have poor vision, and about 60 percent of them lack access to corrective glasses. Glasses are considered a luxury in these parts of the world. This has a big impact on kids in school, as they cannot see the blackboard clearly and lose about half a year of schooling as a result. Child Vision glasses are a cheap alternative to normal prescription glasses for children in impoverished countries.

Child Vision glasses are different from conventional glasses because they are adjustable. Each lens is actually two lenses with space in the middle. After taking a simple eye chart test, kids put on the Child Vision glasses and they can adjust it themselves. They cover one eye and turn a knob that will adjust the glasses.

The knob adjusts the liquid that is inside the lenses. The liquid causes the lenses to expand or contract, thus adjusting the prescription of the glasses. Kids turn the knob until they can see clearly. Once they can see clearly, they take off the adjustors to seal the prescription. Unfortunately, that means that kids only have one opportunity to correct their vision, but it seems that the success rate is high.

Out of all the users of adjustable glasses, 92 percent of them were able to correct their vision. One of the main reasons why glasses are considered a luxury is because of their price. The average price for glasses is about $196. The creators of Child Vision recognized this problem and worked to make the adjustable glasses affordable for those in the developing world. The average cost for Child Vision glasses is €16, or about $19.

One of the best things about these glasses is that they do not need an optometrist to correct their vision. Anyone with basic training can administer an eye chart exam to help kids learn if they need glasses.

Thanks to Child Vision, glasses for children in impoverished countries are now available. These low-cost adjustable glasses are easy to adjust and give to kids. Child Vision is giving kids the glasses they need so they can better participate in school and make the most of their education.

Daniel Borjas

Photo: Flickr

The expansion of a country’s middle class has often been regarded as a sign of development. In recent years, there has been a rise of the middle class in the developing world, resulting in economic prosperity, as well as a potential for more social security.

A report by Homi Kharas titled “The Unprecedented Expansion of the Global Middle Class” provides significant statistics on this topic. Worldwide, there are approximately 3.2 billion middle-class members, with this number expected to increase in the upcoming years.

Such is due in part to a decline in world poverty, with the rate of those living on less than $1.90 a day being about 10 percent. The largest reduction in poverty can be seen in Asia, particularly in the countries China, Indonesia, and India.

However, progress in poverty reduction and its related development of the middle class has been disproportionate. Regions of sub-Saharan Africa still see the greatest diffusion of poverty, with half of the world’s extreme poor being housed here.

Yet, despite this, there is cause for optimism. The GDP of developing countries, measured in terms of purchasing power parity, grew from approximately $35 trillion in 2005 to more than $40 trillion in 2011. Such an increase is reflective of an enlargement of the middle class.

While this clearly has economic consequences, it also has social ones. Predictions have been made regarding advancements in world democracy, as more middle-class citizens in developing nations recognize their potential to bring about governmental change. Strength comes in numbers.

As OECD director  Mario Pezzini comments: “Middle-class expectations in emerging and developing countries are rising and evolving as their countries’ economic situations improve… They are no longer satisfied with simply having access to public services; they are increasingly concerned with their quality.”

This, in turn, may have repercussions for world poverty, assuming governments are able to meet public demands. It has been universally recognized that causes of poverty include insufficient access to public resources such as education and healthcare, especially for rural inhabitants.

Assuming governments are able to meet public demands, if these public resources are not only expanded but improved, it is likely that global poverty will be further reduced. However, such is only speculative. Only time can reveal the future of poverty worldwide.

What appears to be certain, however, is that the rise of the middle class in the developing world has a number of positive consequences. Collective leaders should continue to ensure such growth in order to reduce poverty, bring about economic expansion and increase social opportunities worldwide.

Gigi DeLorenzo

Photo: Flickr

Kylie Lip Kit
Recently, Kylie Jenner has used her fame to put a smile on the face of children in developing countries. Earlier in October, Jenner released a brand new shade of her famous Kylie Lip Kits. One hundred percent of the proceeds went straight to the non-profit organization Smile Train, which funds surgeries for cleft lip, one of the leading birth defects that children in many developing countries suffer from. Raising nearly $160,000 in sales, hundreds of people will be able to afford the treatment that they need in order to eat and speak properly.

Clefts involve the lip and the palate, or roof of the mouth, and occur when there is a split as a result of certain structures not fusing together during fetal development. The cause of cleft lip is relatively unknown, but a genetic connection is an assumed possibility. Outside forces such as exposure to drug and alcohol use, smoking, maternal illness, infections or lack of vitamin B are also factors.

According to Smile Train’s website, cleft lip is an easily treatable issue. Though more than 170,000 children in 85 developing countries suffer from it, all it takes is $250 and 45 minutes for a surgery that will change a child’s life.

Children that don’t receive adequate medical care will often live in isolation, and struggle with carrying out basic physical tasks such as eating, breathing and speaking. As a result, most of these children don’t attend school or ever hold a job. Jenner has helped bring further attention to this issue and the launch of the Kylie Lip Kit will serve to ensure that hundreds of children can go on to lead better and healthier lives.

The light pink shade, “Smile,” was dropped on the Kylie Cosmetics website on Oct. 3 in recognition of World Smile Day. Incredibly popular, selling quickly like the other products in Jenner’s makeup collection, the unique Kylie Lip Kit collected a massive amount of money for the international organization.

As a new Smile Train Ambassador, Jenner presented a check for $159,500 to the organization’s CEO Susannah Schaefer. The money will fund cleft lip and palate surgeries for 638 children in need. On her collaboration with Smile Train, Jenner stated, “I’m excited to continue my relationship with Smile Train and see the difference we make together […] I wanted to use my social media platforms to help inform my fans about clefts and raise money to give these young kids the surgeries they need to get the smiles they deserve.”

In situations where the fulfillment of proper solutions is lacking, it is significant to note successful methods for giving back to those who are disadvantaged and ones that anyone can get involved in. The Kylie Lip Kit exemplifies this, acknowledging the generous efforts and tremendous effects that can come from the purchase of one simple product.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

the_wonderbagThe Wonderbag is a revolutionary non-electric cooker with the capacity to change the way people cook around the world. The Wonderbag website describes the product as “a simple but revolutionary non-electric heat-retention cooker. It continues to cook food that has been brought to the boil by conventional methods for up to 12 hours without the use of additional fuel.”

The Wonderbag works by allowing the person cooking to heat any pot of food and then place the boiling pot into the bag and seal it. The initial heating can be done in any way whatsoever: on a stove in a modern kitchen, over a campfire or on a charcoal fire in a developing country’s village. The heat from the initial boiling keeps the food cooking inside the Wonderbag for eight to 12 hours.

The Wonderbag is portable and can be used anywhere. In addition to heating food, it can also be used as a cooler. All you have to do is freeze it and it will keep food cold for hours.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, inventor Sarah Collins said “The biggest killer in the world is indoor air pollution related diseases; over 4 million people die annually from cooking related fire diseases,” half of whom are under five years of age. Also, the burning of fuels causes hundreds of thousands of burns every year, according to the Wonderbag website.

Deforestation is a major problem around the world and is happening especially quickly in the developing world where they still use wood and charcoal as fuel and for the purposes of cooking. And by 2025, water shortages may affect up to two-thirds of the world’s population. In an interview with Climate Action, inventor Sarah Collins stated that: “The bag can reduce the amount of fossil fuels that people use for cooking by 90 percent.”

According to the Wonderbag website, the preparation of food can have a particularly damaging effect on the progress of women in developing countries. Preparing food can take hours, including the time spent gathering fuel. The use of the Wonderbag can free up several hours a day, allowing girls time to go to school and women time to do other work.

According to Climate Action, Collins says that through humanitarian work, she aims to get her product to “the people who live on a dollar a day in the developing world.” In the developing world, the bag can be used similarly to a slow cooker in a modern kitchen.

Finally, for each Wonderbag purchased by someone in the developed world, one will be donated to a family in the developing world, linking people all around the world to each other.

Rhonda Marrone

Sources: Wonderbag, Facebook, Huffington Post, Climat Action Programme
Photo: Flickr

Developing World's Babies Can Now Breathe Easier
In rural parts of the developing world, health care is iffy at best. If there is a healthcare facility, it often lacks trained employees and equipment. The equipment may even be outdated due to the expense to update it. And, too often, people traveling to a healthcare facility die in their travels.

This is the case seen in newborns when they are born in a rural village and must make the voyage to the nearest healthcare facility. It is very common for premature newborns to have difficulty breathing.

“Hospitals supply continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to keep the lungs ‘open’ as the baby breathes on its own. However, very premature babies who cannot breathe on their own require dual pressure treatment along with CPAP to provide both negative and positive pressure to the lungs at a normal breathing frequency.”

In first world countries, this is an easy fix because they are usually born at a hospital with the necessary equipment. However, this is not true in the rural parts of the developing world. Babies that need treatment for underdeveloped lungs do not have access to the dual pressure treatment system because the equipment is expensive, difficult to operate, or hard to upkeep.

According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate of premature infants in underdeveloped countries can be up to eight times higher than in the U.S., due to lack of resources. But there is hope for the newborn babies of the developing world.

Stephen John and Joseph Barnett, two engineering students at Western Michigan University (WMU), invented the NeoVent. This device is an easy-to-operate dual-pressure system that is aimed at helping premature babies breathe.

“The NeoVent consists of an innovative oscillatory relief valve, and is driven by excess air generated by the CPAP machine. Air at a constant pressure is transported from the CPAP machines into the child’s airway via a tube. The tube is submerged into water to produce bubbles, which are caught in a small inverted bowl on the relief valve.”

As this tube fills bubbles, a positive pressure is applied to the infant’s lungs, bringing in air. And as the bubbles disperse, a negative pressure is applied to the infant’s lungs, pulling air out of the lungs. This is seen as a breathing motion on the infant’s chest.

By keeping the developing world in mind, John and Barnett have priced the machine at a mere $25. The engineering students plan to implement the NeoVent in limited resource facilities in Nepal, Kenya and Uganda.

John and Barnett received $3,500 as U.S. winners of the 2015 James Dyson Award. The students plan to use this money to start clinical trials and manufacture a second round of production level devices.

The NeoVent also won the Lemelson-MIT undergraduate “Cure It” competition and the Brian Thomas Entrepreneurial competition at Western Michigan University. In addition to these awards, NeoVent is also the recipient of a VentureWell E-teams grants and a research grant from WMU’s honors college.

NeoVent maybe not look like the expensive technology in state of the art hospitals, but it functions just the same. By creating an effective and affordable device, John and Barnett will be saving many premature infants’ lives in the developing world.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: Machine Design, WMU News
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Education as an Agent of Change in the Developing World
It is no secret that Earth is facing a massive environmental crisis. Changes to the environment have resulted in climate change that has affected weather across the world. Pollution sickens children and creates thick layers of smog that envelop entire cities.

Climate change hits hardest in the developing world, where it kills 8.4 million people a year, which is more than HIV/AIDs and malaria kill. Many in developing countries still use more traditional fuel sources like wood and coal instead of cleaner energy. The issue has dropped off the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals, the successors of the Millennium Development Goals that expire this year.

What is the answer to all this doom and gloom? While there might not be a one-off solution to climate change, education on the issues facing the planet is certainly a big step in the right direction. Sadly, a recent study found that 40 percent of adults on earth are not aware of the idea of climate change. Lack of education also hits home in Africa and Asia, where people “are more likely to consider global warming a personal threat if they notice changes in the local temperature.”

It is often only by sensing a change in temperature that people deem climate change a threat. In Malawi, the local language does not have a word for the phenomenon. One way to combat climate change through education might be to explain the forces moving behind the slight temperature changes that people sense in order to make them understand the issue on a bigger, global scale. Knowledge on the subject can have an impact on a range of decisions that individuals might make – which crops to plant or where to place a new port, for example.

Environmental education can provide people with the necessary knowledge, behavior changes and skills that are needed in order to successfully carry out climate change mitigation and adaptation: it “can enable individuals and communities to make informed decisions and take action for climate-resilient sustainable development.”

The education of women and girls about the issues related to climate change is important. Recent studies have shown that when this happens, communities “are better able to adapt and thus be less vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change.” When women are educated, they and their families are less likely to be vulnerable to death or injury during natural disasters.

More education on the specifics and intricacies of how natural environments function and change is needed in the developing world. Along with this, more knowledge must be spread on how individuals have an impact on their climate and the environment around them. With more of this in curriculae around the world, the effects of climate change might lessen.

Environmental education is an untapped resource when it comes to combating climate change. Those behind creating policy have not yet really utilized education as a sector that can fight climate change. Over the course of time, education has been used as a tool for social change. Today is no different – the planet needs a change in ideas and attitudes, and education is a way by which these changes can begin to sprout.

Greg Baker

Sources: Washington Post, Brookings, AllAfrica, IPS News
Photo: UC San Diego News Center

There are 63 million secondary school-aged children around the world who are unable to attend school. In West and Central Africa, this number amounts to 40 percent of their youth population. In India, 16 million children of lower and secondary school age do not receive an education. The School Fund works with investors to provide resources and funds to developing regions to help children in need.

On average, an individual’s wage increases 15 to 25 percent for each additional year of schooling he or she receives. Girls and young women who receive an education are far less likely to become a child bride and typically grow up to be healthier and more educated about sex. Women who receive an education are more prone to have healthier children and smaller families. Education can also help girls grow up to become leaders in their communities.

The School Fund operates its services by first helping investors find students to support. This process is determined by selecting a student based on their country, gender, academic interests or fundraising deadlines. The second step helps the investors decide how much to donate, and step three allows the donators to stay in touch with the students they have helped in order to see how they are contributing the funds to their education.

The School Fund has been able to provide scholarships to over 1,100 students in Africa, Asia and Latin America, totaling over US$400,000 in funds used for tuition, uniforms, materials, exam fees and food. Students have been funded by over 3,500 donors, representing more than 1,500 years of education.

The organization was founded by Matt Severson and Andrew Perrault in 2009. Having been friends for many years and sharing interests in both traveling and development, the pair traveled to Tanzania in 2007 while still in high school. While there, they were both touched by how friendly and thoughtful the residents were. Even though many of them lived in poverty, they were still willing to share with the two of them.

During his travels, Matt Severson met a young boy named John Medo. Medo came from a family of seven who lived on US$45 a month. John Medo was intelligent — he had aced all of the exams necessary for secondary school, but his family could not afford the US$150 fee for tuition. When Severson met Medo, he was working to become a farmer. Matt Severson was inspired by John Medo’s kindness and decided to provide funds for his schooling. This marked the beginning of The School Fund.

Over the next two summers, Severson and Perrault worked to expand and build The School Fund from the ground up. Now The School Fund supports students in Tanzania, Haiti, the Philippines and many other places in the world. As Matt Severson puts it, there are many other “John Medos” in the world who need support to attend school. The School Fund plans to continue to connect investors with students in need.

– Julia Hettiger

Sources: The School Fund 1, The School Fund 2, UNICEF
Photo: Ghana Culture Politics


The U.S. is blessed with an incredible system of roads, highways and streets that for the most part seamlessly connect people across the country. In other countries, this is not the case.

Roads form the basis for economic and social activities, not only in the developed world but also all over the globe. They enable people to access doctors, markets and schools. Usually they carry 60 to 90 percent of all freight and passenger transport. It is for this reason that they are so important in development work.

Even with their importance recognized, most roads in the developing world are under-resourced and poorly managed. Because of this, somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of roads in developing countries are in bad condition. This ends up costing countries a ton of money: two to five percent of their gross domestic products go toward fixing the roads as well as increased vehicle operating costs.

Poor road quality was identified as an issue all the way back in 1988, and following a study that year, many different efforts started to improve the situation. A new one has surfaced today, however: using recycled plastic to build pieces that can snap together to form roads.

A company in the Netherlands, KWS Infa, has developed their “PlasticRoad” material using things like plastic. There are a multitude of benefits to building roads in the developing world using this material as opposed to asphalt.

The original intention of KWS Infa to develop a plastic road was because they would not break down as easy as asphalt when laid on poor soil, which is a widespread phenomenon in the Netherlands. While bringing this capacity to developing countries, plastic roads last as much as three times longer than their paved counterparts. To go along with this longevity is an ability to withstand a wider range of temperatures – -40 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

The roads also benefit the environment. Instead of filling landfills and the sides of roads with plastic that does not make it into recycling, it can instead be used to make road pieces. There is also the added benefit of reduced emissions that are involved with paving roads.

Roads made of plastic can be put into place much quicker than paved roads as well. Simply snap in place the Lego-like sections of the road and viola. Paving can take weeks and weeks. Part of the road is damaged? Simply change out the “Lego piece” section for another one.

India is an ideal place for plastic roads because of the ready supply of the material in the streets, on trees and in fields. Estimates say that around 15,000 tons of plastic waste are created in the country every year. But according to Rajagopalan Vasudevan, it’s a “gift from the gods” because it provides such a huge wealth from which to build roads. So far, only 3,000 miles of road have been laid in 11 states around India.

There are a few concerns regarding plastic roads. While the building blocks are hollow, allowing for pipes and electricity wires to run through them, there is concern with how this will work when only one segment of the road needs to be replaced. There is also concern about how well cars will grip to plastic roads. Only time and more implementation can decide whether plastic road’s positives can outweigh the negatives.

Gregory Baker

Sources: NBC, Bloomberg
Photo: VolkerWessels


Throughout the developing world, one kind of disease remains more common than any other: worms. In fact, according to The Huffington Post, recent figures have suggested that nearly every person residing in a developing country has some form of worm infection, due to the abundance of worm larva in soil all over the world.

While there are a variety of these infections, one in particular called ascariasis, or ascaris, has become so widespread that, according to the Center for Disease Control, it “account[s] for a major burden of disease worldwide.” In total, 807 million to 1.2 billion people around the world are infected with this parasitic illness, which is also classified as a neglected tropical disease.

It is caused by the consumption of its eggs, which reside in contaminated soil. This happens when fingers that have touched contaminated soil are put in the mouth or if produce has not been properly washed, cooked and peeled.

After ingestion, the eggs make their way to the intestine, where they hatch into larva. The freshly spawned larvae then wait to develop into fully mature worms. An adult female worm can grow up to around 30 cm in length while in the intestine, all while producing eggs that will then return to the soil via the host’s feces.

Upon reaching maturity, these adult worms wiggle through the intestinal wall and make their way towards their host’s lungs through the blood stream. This is where things get even more disgusting. Once near the lungs, they reside by the back of the throat, where they once again lay their eggs and continue the cycle.

Sufferers often do not experience any symptoms, but some of the most common signs of the disease are abdominal pain, coughing, difficulty breathing and fever. In more severe cases, excessive worm growth can cause intestinal blockages. As the worms migrate to the lungs, they are also one of the most common causes of Asthma in the developing world.

Ascariasis can stunt the growth of young children and this age group is also its most common target. When children play in the soil they expose themselves to risk of infection when putting their fingers in their mouths afterward. While usually not lethal, ascaris takes the lives of 60,000 annually, most of which belong to children.

In order to combat this disease, the World Health Organization and many other international aid organizations have attempted mass de-worming efforts. Using the two drugs albendazole and mebendazole, these groups have made progress by treating whole communities.

Another effective way of preventing ascaris does not involve drugs at all and instead relies on health education. These campaigns teach those in afflicted areas how to keep a sanitary kitchen and how to consume food safely, without the risk of catching the disease.

While treatment efforts are ongoing, less than 40 percent of the world’s children in need of treatment have not actually received any. This accounts for more than 850 million children worldwide and stands as one of the largest public health issues in the world. In order to improve the lives of millions, deworming campaigns must carry on.

– Andrew Logan

Sources: The Center for Disease Control, The Deccan Herald, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr