Most Of The Plastic In The Ocean Comes From Just A Few Polluting Countries

Just five countries are responsible for 60% of all the junk in our marine garbage patches.

Most Of The Plastic In The Ocean Comes From Just A Few Polluting Countries
[Top Photo: 2bears via Shutterstock]

Millions of tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year, causing increasing environmental and economic damage (not to mention a watery eyesore).


According to research published this year, up to 60% of that waste comes from five countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand. So it makes sense to focus on those places first, or so says a new report from the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

The five countries could reduce their plastic leakage by 65%, and thus cut total global leakage 45% by 2025, the study says. It wouldn’t have to be hard. Closing leakage points in collection facilities, expanding garbage services, using more garbage for energy generation, and diverting more high-value plastic from the waste-stream, would cost only $5 billion a year–“an investment with significant returns to the entire economy.”

The authors looked at 33 potential solutions to marine trash, estimating “dollars per metric ton of leakage avoided” for each. A key point is that recycling alone is not going to improve things much: 80% of plastic isn’t high enough value either for collection services or informal pickers, the report says. Plastic bag bans can be effective if they’re in specific “retail channels and heavily regulated locations,” they say.

Each country’s strategy should differ. In China, 84% comes from waste that’s not collected, so it needs to concentrate on expanding garbage collection, the report says. On average, the five countries collect about 50% of trash overall. In the Philippines, 74% of its leakage happens after that waste has been “collected,” so it should perhaps modernize collection facilities and transport systems to be more retentive.

“This study outlines a path that can generate considerable benefits to communities, preserve the bio-productivity of the ocean, and reduce risks for industry,” the report says. “Concerted action in the form of a $5 billion annual ramp-up in waste-management spending could create a vibrant secondary resource market, trigger investment in packaging and recovery systems, and let the ocean thrive.”

See more here.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.