Although plastic consumption is higher in more developed countries like the United States, a 2021 report from Our World in Data states that roughly a third of all plastics in the ocean comes from the Philippines. Plastic floods the Philippines’ beaches and rivers. Although people might associate this level of litter with overconsumption, plastic pollution in the Philippines is both the result and cause of poverty.
How Plastic Links to Poverty
Plastic and global poverty interlink in several ways. For one, the prevalence of plastic pollution and other waste in less developed countries is a direct consequence of the global waste trade as more developed countries “export” their waste to less developed countries that lack the means to properly recycle or otherwise dispose of it. The lack of sufficient waste management infrastructure in less developed countries hinders proper plastic disposal as mismanaged plastics move from population hubs into rivers and coastal ecosystems.
In the Philippines, discarding rather than recycling plastics leads to a loss of revenue of more than $890 million annually, which equates to “78% of the material value of the key plastic resins.” Plastic pollution also worsens conditions for the world’s impoverished. Consumption, inhalation and any other exposure to additives in most plastic can cause birth defects, disturb hormonal functions or lead to cancer, among other detrimental impacts.
Plastic pollution in the Philippines also threatens local economies, which are reliant on fishing, shipping and tourism. This pollution notably decreases overall biodiversity, interferes with shipping equipment and mars otherwise beautiful beaches and rivers.
NGOs Tackling Plastic Pollution in the Philippines
Despite the dire situation, several organizations are taking a stand against plastic pollution in the Philippines. These include the Plastic Bank, The Plastic Flamingo and the Blastik Project.
- The Plastic Bank. This international organization promotes ethical recycling systems along coastlines and provides additional sources of revenue for those living in poverty. As of Jan. 26, 2022, the Plastic Bank recovered 41.64 kilograms of plastic, the equivalent of 91.8 pounds or roughly “2 billion single-use plastic bottles.” The organization allows individuals to collect plastic waste in exchange for money, basic family necessities and access to social and training programs. A branch of the Plastic Bank centered in the Philippines has stated on Facebook that people from local communities can collect plastic waste in exchange “for bonuses that help to provide basic family necessities like groceries, school supplies for their children, digital connectivity, and more.” By equipping individuals with these opportunities, the Plastic Bank gives them the tools necessary for greater economic mobility.
- The Plastic Flamingo. This social enterprise spreads awareness of plastic pollution through webinars and educational campaigns and offers public drop-off points for plastic disposal. However, it primarily focuses on converting plastic waste into building materials. People throughout Manila can get rid of their plastic waste at collection sites for the organization to collect and recycle into “Eco-lumbers.” Through its creation of Eco-lumbers and its participation in many construction projects, The Plastic Flamingo transforms a source of economic concern into a valuable, sustainable resource that people could use as humanitarian housing material alternatives. In 2021, the group notably made its first prototype of an “Eco-shelter” made entirely out of recycled products.
- The Blastik Project. Similar to the Plastic Bank, the Blastik Project equips farmers to reduce plastic pollution in the Philippines and create a more circular economy. The project also educates local communities on the potential economic benefits of recycling. The organization also offers to teach Filipinos how to recycle plastic bottles and caps into home decor, wallets, tiles and more. This supplemental income could make a significant difference, especially for those struggling with poverty. People also use plastics as bottle planters in the organization’s farms, which provides the project’s contributors with organic food. As of November 2021, the Blastik Project recycled more than 17 tons of plastic waste.
Ultimately, pollution and poverty intertwine in a self-feeding cycle. It would be impossible to tackle one without tackling the other, especially because of the global waste trade, which forces less developed countries to bear the consequences of overconsumption in wealthier nations. However, a greater shift to recycling and sustainable development could turn the tide on plastic pollution in the Philippines.
– Lauren Sung