Trashing Paradise: The Case of the Philippines
A guest blog by Andrew Wynne
An island archipelago nation laying in the western Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is commonly known for its idyllic beaches, rugged volcanic interior, routine natural disasters, and amicable people. But perhaps less known is the battle against solid waste that is currently enveloping the country. I spent two and a half years on the front lines of this battle as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and can attest to what a study published just last week in the respected journal Science found; the Philippines, along with a small number of other developing countries, is a major vector for plastics and other debris flowing into the global ocean.
With the vast majority of the population and economy tied to the coastline, managing solid waste is exasperating already stressed resources and forcing individuals into economically inefficient ways of making a living that strain the coastal environment. In addition, the Philippines? location in the western Pacific Ocean likely leads to the transportation of waste around the globe, thereby affecting everyone from local barangays to American coastal cities.
The Philippines is just one of those island nations where the trash of others eventually ends, with all its dire negative effects on people, environment and wildlife. Who pays for cleaning up? Since no one can identify the guilty party, action can hardly be taken. But is it not time to start putting in place a mechanisms whereby countries with high consumption and high waste production pay for cleaning up their rubbish, even if it lands into others backyards?
Thank you Ven, excellent post highlighting one of the most severe problem both of the region and on global scale as well. However there is another facet of the problem, the relentless growth of population, and what’s more, the mainstream media amplifies the belief that Population Increase Means Economic Growth.
As we’ve shown many times all coastlines receive ‘trash’ (marine debris). I’ve posted photos showing how widespread this problem is. The small island nations, and also the densely-populated ones like Indonesia and the Philippines are unable to cope with these literal mountains of rubbish. On my atoll we are a mere 0.5 metres above sea level, so no chance of making a landfill site even if we wanted one; and, honestly, who would want to bury plastic in our earth for 1000’s of years?
Our only option is to collect the rubbish and burn it ~ better that than leaving it in the oceans, which provide most of our food supply. Looking along an isolated beach when the wind blew from the north recently: I found many plastic drinking water bottles washed ashore ~ contributions from China, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, Hawai’i & Fiji … all the labels extolling how healthy their product was.
We have very far to go in our world 🙂
Mike, would it be possible to ask the young generation of Tongareva to set up a list of those companies whose products are washed to your shores? You just listed six countries. if the young boys and girls around you could write down the name of the companies shown on the bottles, we could use that in a later phase. I think after few days (weeks… ?) the list more or less would be ‘complete’ and there would be a big ‘wow!’s to find new player on a bottle.
Perhaps a stupid idea…
I’ll see if we can introduce this as a concept at school. Perhaps as a Science Fair project, like we did last year. We already participate in ‘Global Clean-up days’ and have been compiling the categories of rubbish we collect (e.g. hard plastic, soft plastic, shoes, bottle tops, clothes, disposable nappies, polystyrene etc). So it’s not hard to add in the most common countries or manufacturers that send us their consumer discards.
It will probably take months, as the weather influences what happens. We usually have easterlies, but if it it comes more southeasterly for a while then most debris comes from South America. If it shifts north then we get things from the Equatorial currents that usually miss us. Westerlies are very rare, and just put small fragments of plastic onto our leeward beaches, which are usually cleanest. ‘Plastic soup’!
In fact we say “we share our Paradise with you, you send us your rubbish … please don’t” Mike 🙂
“Population Increase Means Economic Growth” but for whom really? It appears the Chinese and the Japanese will cash in, and get even richer. The economic model of growth has changed so much that we can hardly assess whether growth can be sustainable or not. The Philippines is certainly a country of vast resources, and dire poverty too. My impression is that as a few locals are enjoying returns on their resources, the multinationals exploiting these same resources are enjoying more of the returns. And now the Japanese and Chinese are moving in to mop off whatever the locals managed to glean.
Thank you Ven. Spot on. I think that is what is happening is that we are no different from the old ‘colonial’ days ~ the dominant pattern throughout written history. A stong country invades a weaker one, occupies it, steals its resources, or forces it to become a vassal state … paying tribute. I perceive that the modern weapon is economic (think so-called sanctions against Russia by the Yankees … and EU vassal states). So other countries are just cleaning out South & Central America, Central Asia, and most of Africa, seems little has changed.
Now, the Philippines. Last year I investigated the possibility for harvesting sea cucumbers (Holothuria, beche-de-mer, or trepang). As it turned out we don’t have that many; mainly because our marine habitats are clean, and the holothuria are detritivores perferring dirtier habitats. No worries: it’s a messy and smelly job preparing them anyway! During my investigation I looked at the Philippines as a major exporter of trepang. A few buyers (your ‘locals getting some return’) travel around the villages, probably paying a pittance to the artisans, then they ship the trepang to Hong Kong or Singapore ~ the major hubs. Then they go mostly to China. The trepang are improved and sold to the luxury food market. During my study I found that there were 2 main choices: export a few of the high value trepang; or mass export poor quality, low value ones. Phillipines does the latter. If we’d proceeded at Tongareva we would have completed the high value export brand, with a nice foil bag and highlighted that they were organic, pollution-free & sun-dried. As I said we didn’t bother. Mike
Actually thinking that through a bit further: things like GDP are probably meaningless, although constantly being quoted in the media. “Who benefits? Cui buono? Mike
How did you arrive to this conclusion from trepang?
I mean it might be true, depending on the viewpoint, just can’t see the connection between… 🙂
I meant that 1000’s of people collected trepang to the point where they’ve impacted the ecosystem, they get paid a pittance, and just a few make any real money from it. I hope I understood your question? Mike
And who made the waste profit from it? Because “the majority of the profit always generated at the final steps of the manufacturing process”. So Philippines sold mainly the raw material to Hong-Kong and China food market dealers and they resold them to luxury customers. So the majority of the GDP were generated in Hong-Kong and China. While if Tongareva had export nicely packaged, “bio” trepang, following the same logic the GDB would have generated in Tongareva. What is the problem with GDP in this context? GDP does a terrible job to protect our ecosystem, but that’s another topic.
I think we’re saying the same thing Janos. That if the money is produced … and perhaps remains … in a place then it’s fine. If, as you just said it is in Hong Kong, then that doesn’t help the Phillippines.
I’m also wondering about Greece. The debt is 175% of GDP, so who gets all that? Germany? I’m just trying to understand, Mike