Tackling one of the biggest environmental problems on the planet, the dumping of plastic into the ocean, is possible and involves the control of garbage in five emerging countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, with measures that, together, would cost 5 million dollars annually.
This is demonstrated by the research “Stopping the wave: strategies on land for a plastic-free ocean” presented by the Ocean Conservancy at an international conference on marine sciences held in Puerto Rico.
In it, experts in marine litter have talked about how to stop this incessant dumping that, in 80% of cases, comes from land: from badly thrown packaging, not recycled or treated, which ends up in the sea where it disintegrates into small fragments that persist for years.
The marine sink already contains 150 million tons of plastic, which put on the surface would occupy what the gigantic North American state of Texas.
To these are added, on average, eight million new tons each year, according to the calculations of Jenna Jambeck, a researcher at the North American University of Georgia, who predicts that at the current rate the ocean will be a landfill with 250 million tons of plastic in 2025.
Scientists estimate that that year there would be one ton of plastic for every three of fish.
What goes to the ocean goes to your mouth
Science has yet established an exact itinerary of the path that plastic follows when it enters the sea, but it does know that “it is everywhere, even in the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, and has been found in 660 species marine, from tiny plankton to the largest whales, ”explains George Leonard, a marine scientist at the Ocean Conservancy.
“We know little in general about the effects of plastic from the seas on human health, although we have no doubt that what goes to the ocean goes to our mouths. A recent investigation - published in Nature - found remains of plastic in absolutely all the commercial species that are sold in the markets of the world ”, adds Leonard.
Although all countries with coastal access contribute to the dumping of plastic into the sea, more than half of it, almost 57%, comes from the aforementioned five Asian countries: China (responsible for 29% of marine plastic waste), Indonesia (10.5%), the Philippines (6.1%), Vietnam (5.9%) and Thailand (5.2%).
In the case of China, the researcher from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Julia Xue, explains that plastic has been considered one of the three main pollutants - along with emissions from cars and detergent - by the Chinese government but its recycling rate barely reaches 20%.
Experts consider that to ensure minimum dumping, the plastic recycling rate should be around 80%.
Jurgenne Primavera, a marine researcher from the Philippines, reports that in her country "plastic waste is what indicates the sea level", and that "there is no mangrove free of plastic".
Primavera assures that the problem in the Philippines is that "people do not understand that you have to recycle, there is simply no separation, nor does the country have adequate recycling infrastructure."
Thus, cases like that of a recently found dead whale on Philippine beaches with four kilos of plastic inside are everyday, according to the account.
However, solving the problem in these countries is feasible, according to the Ocean Convervancy report, which defines a series of cities and a number of rivers where the problem can be tackled.
Researchers have seen that implementing local plans for the separation, safe collection and transport and correct treatment of plastic waste in these points, can reduce the dumping in these countries by 65%, which would mean a global decrease of 45% in 2025 .
The cost of the measures to be applied would be 5,000 million per year, a minimum figure when compared with the damage that marine plastics cause to ecosystems, fisheries and tourism, says Janis Searles, another of the NGO scientists.
To accelerate waste management plans in those countries, they have created the Trash Free Seas alliance, made up of companies, NGOs and scientists.
And it is that Searles believes that the problem is perfectly approachable because "it is not a voluntary dumping, neither the plastic industry, nor the consumers, nor does anyone want a collapsed ocean of plastic".
Photo: A Senegalese boy jumps through the rubbish on a beach in Dakar (Senegal). EFE / Nic Bothma