It’s not always Sri Lanka can come on top and this time round Sri Lanka has come in the first five. According to a new study by engineers and environmental scientists China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are the world’s worst marine polluters, in that order
Between five and 13 million tons of plastic is dumped in the oceans annually. What’s more only 20 countries account for 80 per cent of this waste. In a new study published in Science magazine, China is responsible for discarding nearly 30 per cent of the world’s ocean-bound plastic.
Plastic waste such as disposable bottles and packaging containers leak chemicals such as bisphenol A that mix in ocean water. These persistent toxins accumulate in the body of marine fish over their lives, a phenomenon referred to as Bioaccumulation. Such chemicals can accumulate in the tissues of oceanic organisms in increasing concentration, at successively higher levels in a food chain as well.
This is referred to as Biomagnification, also known as bioamplification. Which means that larger fish that prey on smaller fish species have higher amounts of toxins in them and this could result in health complications in human consumers. Whatever its origin, plastic waste kill countless seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals every year. According to National Geographic, waste plastic dumped in the ocean has been ingested with dire consequences by some 700 species of marine wildlife.
A separate study conducted last year based on ‘garbage patches’ floating on world’s oceans estimated the amount of floating trash to be 245,000 tons at most. But according to the current study, approximately eight million tons of trash was dumped into the oceans in 2010. Waste plastic has turned up literally everywhere, even in the deep sea and buried in Arctic ice.
The pioneering study has also creates a new mystery, as reported by National Geographic. Because the gap between what is found floating as ‘garbage patches’ and what is dumped into the ocean is so large.
Co-author of the report and oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts Kara Lavender Law has said to National Geographic, “What we have done is look at the other side of the equation—what’s coming out of the faucet, rather than what’s already in the bathtub.”
“The size of the discrepancy is huge – 20 to 2,000 times more than the range of estimates of floating debris. That is pretty shocking, especially when you consider that the amount going into the ocean in a single year and what we’re counting in the oceans has been going in for 50 years.”
Scientists now have to figure out where else plastic collects and in what amounts.
“What we need to do now is close the gap,” Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the UK’s Plymouth University.
University of Georgia environmental engineer, Jenna Jambeck, who lead the study, likened the eight million tons of waste to lining up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline around the globe. “And by 2025, those five grocery bags of plastic are going to be ten bags,” she says.
The economic cost of such pollution in the form of combating litter and clearing beaches amounts to at least $428 million a year (California, US). The study analysed plastic waste generated by 192 countries. There are 11 other Asian countries, Turkey, five African countries and Brazil in the list.
The study team found that these countries generated 275 million tons of garbage annually, of which 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic was dumped into the oceans.
That’s only two to five per cent of the total waste created in these countries.
If immediate action is not taken, the study warns that as many as 155 million tons of waste will be dumped into the oceans in 2025.
Most of the projected waste will be generated in the top five countries, as their economies grow, while India which is currently in 12th place is expected to follow suit. Despite having a comprehensive waste management program US ranks 20th in the list, due to its large coastal population and high consumerism.
It seems that plastic usage and economic development is synonymous. As the economies of countries grow the people tend to use more and more disposable plastic. According to the study global consumption of disposable plastic used in bottles and plastic bags, has increased by 620 percent since 1975.
The findings were funded by the environmental advocacy group, Ocean Conservancy and presented at the annual gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California.
WASTE GENERATION RATE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 1.1
MISMANAGED PLASTIC WASTE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.092
PLASTIC WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 31665388
WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 289181626
WASTE GENERATION RATE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.52
MISMANAGED PLASTIC WASTE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.047
PLASTIC WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 10660505
WASTE GENERATION RATE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.5
MISMANAGED PLASTIC WASTE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.062
PLASTIC WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 6237653
W ASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 41723431
WASTE GENERATION RATE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.79
MISMANAGED PLASTIC WASTE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.09
PLASTIC WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 5714578
WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 44128014
WASTE GENERATION RATE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 5.1
MISMANAGED PLASTIC WASTE (KG/PERSON/DAY): 0.299
PLASTIC WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 5163689
WASTE GENERATION (KG/DAY): 74297687
Top 20 countries
metric tons per year
China – 8.82
Indonesia – 3.22
The Philippines – 1.88
Vietnam – 1.83
Sri Lanka – 1.59
Thailand – 1.03
Egypt – 0.97
Malayasia – 0.94
Nigeria – 0.85
Bangladesh – 0.79
South Africa – 0.63
India – 0.6
Algeria – 0.52
Turkey – 0.49
Pakistan – 0.48
Brazil – 0.47
Burma – 0.46
Morocco – 0.31
North korea – 0.36
United States – 0.28
metric tons per year
China – 17.8
Indonesia – 7.42
The Philippines – 5.1
Vietnam – 4.17
India – 2.88
Nigeria – 2.48
Bangladesh – 2.21
Thailand – 2.18
Egypt – 1.94
Sri Lanka – 1.92
Malayasia – 1.77
Pakistan – 1.22
Burma – 1.15
Algeria – 1.02
Brazil – 0.95
South Africa – 0.84
Turkey – 0.79
Senegal – 0.74
Morocco – 0.71
North Korea – 0.61
Sources: International Business Times
and National Geographic