Plastic pollution: countries show their true colours on the International Plastic Bag Free Day

For immediate release: Brussels, 3/07/18 

Press Contacts: Ariadna Rodrigo, Product Policy Campaigner, Zero Waste Europe: ariadna@zerowasteeurope.eu  +32 489 677 686 Justine Maillot, European Affairs Officer, Surfrider Foundation Europe: jmaillot@surfrider.eu  +32 487 169 453   EU countries lag behind in phasing out single-use plastic bags and curbing plastic pollution, warn Surfrider Foundation Europe (SFE) and Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) on the 9th International Plastic Bag Free Day. According to the report Still Finding Excuses? Time for Europe to act against plastic bag pollution, released today by SFE with contributions from ZWE [1], on the implementation of the EU legislation on plastic bag reduction adopted in 2015, more than 18 months after the deadline for transposition the measures adopted remain largely insufficient in many Member States. Justine Maillot, European Affairs Officer at Surfrider Foundation Europe, said: “In too many EU countries the measures adopted so far are at best half-hearted. There is no excuse for further delay. Governments must raise their level of ambition to match the urgency of the plastic pollution crisis and the concerns of EU citizens” [2]. Rather than banning single-use plastic bags, most countries have opted for either voluntary agreements with the retailers or for a charge on lightweight carrier plastic bags, which in some countries will only come into effect next year. Although a tax can have an impact on consumers behaviour, ZWE and SFE highlight how phasing out single-use plastic bags will require a restriction on the supply side. In addition, in many countries the charge is often too low, or limited to too few retailers, to really spur change. A lack of control and enforcement is also hindering real change on the ground. “The lack of ambition from many governments is at odds with the commitments to tackle plastic pollution worldwide, and with the “race to the top” called for by the European Commission”, said Ariadna Rodrigo, Product Policy Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe [3]. For ZWE and SFE, this is also a missed opportunity, as where ambitious measures, such as bans, have been implemented, they have been successful in reducing plastic bags consumption and largely supported by citizens [4]. The report also highlights concerns regarding the exemption from any tax or restriction for very lightweight plastic bags, as well as bio-based and biodegradable bags. ZWE and SFE highlight how this constitutes a major contradiction in the fight against plastic bag pollution and throw-away culture, and emphasise that existing reusable alternatives, such as tote bags or baskets, must be prioritised.

SFE and ZWE, as members of the Break Free From Plastic global movement [5], call on Member States to urgently implement  the EU Plastic Bag Directive and put an end to plastic bag pollution, in line with the EU strategy on plastics and the promotion of a true circular economy.

Zero Waste Europe calls now on Member States to promptly transpose the adopted safeguards and to exclude any support for fuels from plastic, so as to ensure compliance with EU legislation.


NOTES: [1] Still Finding Excuses? Time for Europe to act against plastic bag pollution, 2018, Surfrider Foundation Europe [2] Eurobarometer October 2017 shows that 87% of EU citizens are worried about the impact of plastic on the environment http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/81259 [3] European strategy on plastics in a circular economy, published on 16 January 2018: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/plastics-strategy-brochure.pdf; Proposal for a directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, published on 28 May 2018: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/single-use_plastics_proposal.pdf Early June, the Indian government pledged to ban all single-use plastics by 2022. [4] In Italy, since the introduction of the ban in 2011, the consumption of plastic bags has reduced by more than 50%. [5] Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, over 1,279 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organisations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.


Repeal of the incineration ban to worsen waste woes, expert warns

“Thermal waste-to-energy facilities will not solve our waste problems but rather make things worse. Despite claims to the contrary, these facilities release toxic chemicals—including dioxins and furans—which are very harmful both to human health and the environment, said Dr. Emmanuel. In a forum organized by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Dr. Emmanuel explained that dioxins are toxic at extremely low concentrations and stay in the environment for a long time. “Dioxins released today by an incinerator or WtE will affect not only you and your children, but many generations hence,” he emphasized. “Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to science. They can cause several types of cancer, reproductive disorders, and developmental problems,” he warned. One of his concerns is that operators of these technologies only test their dioxin emissions once or twice a year yet the results of continuous monitoring of dioxins show that quarterly or even monthly tests may miss episodes of very high releases since dioxins are not emitted uniformly. Furthermore, thermal waste-to-energy projects compel communities to produce more waste rather than reduce waste. Several lawmakers from both the House of Representatives and the Senate have proposed changes to the Clean Air Act of 1999 (RA 8749) in a bid to lift the ban on waste incineration. A bill in the House of Representatives has already passed the third reading this year while a counterpart legislation is being proposed in the Senate. Green groups belonging to No Burn Pilipinas echoed the same concerns on the planned repeal of the incineration ban. Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of Ecowaste Coalition Philippines, said the Congress should rather focus on strengthening the Ecological Solid Waste Management (RA 9003) by passing measures aimed at waste prevention and reduction. “These measures include banning single-use plastic bags, disallowing recyclable and compostable materials in disposal facilities, curbing e-waste, incentivizing innovations in waste management sector,” she added. For Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of the #breakfreefromplastic movement, legislations that ban plastic bags and single-use plastics at the national level are key steps towards the right direction that the Philippine government should pursue instead of building “waste-to-energy” incinerator facilities. “The number of governments and institutions worldwide taking aggressive action to stop the use of single-use plastics continues to grow by the day. This is one area where the Philippines can demonstrate leadership, by also banning and phasing out the use of disposable plastic items like bags, cups, straws, styrofoam food containers, and cutlery nationwide. The fact that these single-use plastics keep ending up in our oceans, coastal areas, and dumpsites prove that they are problematic, unrecyclable, and impossible to manage,” Hernandez said. For Sonia Mendoza, chairperson of Mother Earth Foundation (MEF), the push to revoke the incineration ban will undermine source segregation, recycling, and other Zero Waste strategies that conserve resources, avoid toxic pollution and generate livelihoods. “Zero Waste is still the best approach for the sustainable management of discards,” Mendoza remarked. “Waste is a complex problem that can’t be solved by a machine that burns trash and merely converts solid waste to toxic air pollution. The government should support and invest in Zero Waste approaches instead of partnering with incinerator companies that sell false solutions to cities and municipalities.” During the forum, Councilor Benedict Jasper Lagman of the City of San Fernando, Pampanga, also called on the national government to dump waste-to-energy incineration deals and instead strengthen Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. He narrated the experience of the City of San Fernando which initially entered into a gasification facility deal in 2006 but eventually decided to pursue Zero Waste strategies and succeeded. “San Fernando’s Zero Waste strategy is, at its core, the implementation of RA 9003. Together with other cities in the country that have pledged to go Zero Waste, we are showing that ecological waste management and Zero Waste is possible and can be implemented nationally,” Lagman said. In partnership with Mother Earth Foundation, the city was able to drastically reduce the volume of municipal waste in just six months. In the past, the city brought almost 90% of its waste to landfills. In the last four years with a Zero Waste program which includes segregation at source and composting of organics, this figure was reduced to 30%, resulting in huge savings for the city. Following San Fernando’s example, other cities such as Tacloban City, Malabon City, and General Mariano Alvarez in Cavite have also started implementing Zero Waste strategies. The forum was organized by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources together with No Burn Pilipinas, a coalition of more than 50 Philippine NGOs opposing waste incineration. The main convenors of No Burn Pilipinas are #breakfreefromplastic, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Greenpeace Philippines, Health Care Without Harm Asia, and Mother Earth Foundation Philippines. //ends CONTACT: Sherma Benosa, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific | +639178157570 | sherma@no-burn.org Jed Alegado, Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic | +639176070248 | jed@breakfreefromplastic.org


Environmentalists Push for Ban on Single-Use Plastics; Ocean Polluters” vs. “Ocean Defenders” Dance Showdown Calls Attention to Plastic Garbage Crisis

2 July 2018, Manila City/Quezon City.  Environmental advocates staged a “Bboom Bboom” dance showdown at the promenade by the famed but badly polluted Manila Bay to call attention to the global plastic crisis and press for a national ban on single-use plastics.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a non-profit association for a zero waste and toxics-free Philippines, organized the dance face-off together with allies from the #breakfreefromplastic movement to mark the International Plastic Bags Free Day on July 3, a special day to raise awareness about the adverse environmental impacts of single-use plastics, and promote sustainable alternatives.  The activity also forms part of a series of events worldwide to celebrate plastic-free July, a month of global activity demonstrating solidarity around living our lives without single-use plastic.

The gang of “Ocean Polluters” donning plastic trash faced off with the league of “Ocean Defenders” who were seen brandishing handwoven native “bayong” bags and reusable cloth bags.  The youth performers are members of Green Stage Filipinas-Maskara, an affiliate group of the EcoWaste Coalition from Cavite.

“This fun event has a very serious message for everyone: it’s time to ban single-use plastics from shopping bags to drinking straws to halt the destructive plastic incursion of the oceans that has already reached crisis proportions. The marine ecosystems are choking to death because of the plastic wastes and the cocktail of chemicals that are increasingly dumped into water bodies,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Our lawmakers must heed the signs of the times such as the plastic clogged esteros and the eight million tonnes of plastic spilled into the seas every year and take strong action against the unnecessary applications of plastics,” she said.

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic Movement, noted: “The number of governments and institutions worldwide taking aggressive action to stop the use of single-use plastics continues to grow by the day. This is one area where the Philippines can demonstrate leadership by also banning and phasing-out the use of disposable  plastic items like bags,  cups, straws,  styrofoam food containers, and cutlery nationwide.”

“The fact that these single-use plastics keep ending up in our oceans, coastal areas and dumpsites prove they are problematic, unrecyclable, and almost impossible to manage. Besides, binging on the use of plastic items that one uses for only a matter of minutes and yet will outlive us by hundreds of years is just plain absurd and irresponsible," he pointed out.

“As we grapple with the magnitude of the plastic pollution problem we are facing right now, our government should work double time to solve this crisis.   We are counting on Senators Loren Legarda and Juan Miguel Zubiri and other legislators from both the House of Representatives and the Senate to join forces and get a national legislation banning single-use plastics enacted by the current Congress,” said Angelica Carballo Pago, Media Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines.

Legarda and Zubiri last month publicly declared their support for a legislation that will prohibit single-use plastics. Having signed up to the UN Environment’s #CleanSeas campaign against marine litter, the government should waste no time and make the banning of single-use plastics a national priority to protect fish, a staple food for Filipinos, as well as fish-based livelihoods, which plays a key role in the country’s food security, the groups said. As the desired law is being prepared, the groups appealed to the industries to reduce plastic packaging, design toxic chemicals and wastes out of processes and products, and take responsibility for their products at the end of their lifecycle, including their retrieval and recycling. The groups further reiterated the need for consumers to stop the superfluous uses of plastics and aim for plastic waste prevention and reduction instead of the typical buy-use-throw habit. According to some studies, if plastic waste spillage from land sources is not discontinued, by 2050 oceans will have more plastic than fish.

-end- Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, over 1,200 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision. www.breakfreefromplastic.org.

EcoWaste Coalition is a non-government and non-profit network of community, church, school, environmental and health groups engaged in the promotion and protection of public health and the environment toward the envisioned zero waste and toxics-free society.  


CAP & SAM welcome proposed ban on plastic straws and single-use plastic items in Penang

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are pleased that Penang will embark on a ban of plastic straws and other single-use plastic food and drink containers after Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow gave local authorities carte blanche to execute such policies to preserve the environment.

The proposal by the Penang government and local authorities is the way forward as the growing reliance on plastic to meet our culture of convenience is a bane to the state and the planet. In the past, CAP and SAM have observed and received complaints regarding the excessive use of plastic food and drink containers, disposable cutlery, straws, take-out containers in food outlets.  This practice not only increases the amount of waste to be disposed but subsequently impacts the environment, economy and public health.

Globally, an average of eight million tons of plastic escapes collection systems, winding up in the environment and eventually the ocean. Hence, it is essential that the single-use, throw away culture end. The best alternative is to replace plastic products with reusable/refillable products.

Restaurants and food service establishments can solve the problem of plastic pollution by switching from disposable plastic for washable, reusable utensils. For take-outs, customers should use their own utensils. The local authorities can expedite these changes by banning plastic and other disposable utensils.

The movement to ban straws and other single-use plastics are growing all over the world.  In March 2018, the Maharashtra government in India had announced its ban on plastic bags, water bottles and other disposable plastic items and started implementing the prohibition beginning 23 June this year.

Taiwan is planning a blanket ban on single-use plastic items including straws, cups and shopping bags by 2030. In May 2018, the European Commission proposed banning single-use plastic products such as cotton buds and plastic straws and putting the burden of cleaning up waste on manufacturers in an effort to reduce marine litter.Vancouver, Scotland, and other cities in the United States of America have also announced plastic straw bans and pending ban legislations.

The RefillNotLandfill movement in Cambodia aims to cut down on millions of plastic water bottles discarded by tourists and locals. The alternative offered is reusable aluminium bottles that can be refilled free of charge at designated venues across the country. This campaign has expanded to Myanmar and Laos. We can learn from this initiative to reduce the use of plastic water bottles.

Whilst States and consumers are taking positive initiatives, producers must also be compelled to take responsibility for the full life-cycle costs and impacts of their products and packaging, and must redesign and innovate safer materials and systems.  Businesses must start transitioning and usher in alternatives that are reusable.

CAP and SAM urge the Federal government to enact legislation to impose a nationwide ban on plastic straws, carry bags, water bottles, stirrers, utensils, toothpicks, sachets, food wrap sheets, polystyrene packaging and food containers.  Both the local authorities in Penang must expedite implementation of the proposed bans and lead the way to address the plastic pollution in the state and country.




Commerce, CA, U.S. June 27, 2018–The city of Commerce has announced that the Commerce “Refuse to Energy” Facility will be decommissioned, citing inefficient operating costs as the primary cause. The plant will close on June 30, 2018. Environmental Justice groups including East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice  applauded the news as a victory for communities who have long suffered from the health impacts of this hazardous facility. “It’s no secret that these types of facilities are disproportionately located in lower income communities of color,” says Laura Cortez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. “No community should have to breathe in the pollution from other people’s garbage.” The air quality in Southeast LA is among the worst in the nation. Residents have been exposed to toxic emissions from industrial sources including the incinerator, rail yards, and ports, which can lead to cancer risks and respiratory conditions. The Commerce incinerator has been responsible for repeated emissions violations since it began operating in 1986, endangering the already overburdened community surrounding the plant. The Commerce incinerator’s demise came about after environmental justice advocates succeeded in blocking state renewable energy subsidies from going to the incinerator. These subsidies are meant for true sustainable power methods like solar and wind, but the incinerator industry was attempting to use them to prop up its unsustainable, expensive practices. Studies show that more than 90% of materials currently disposed of in incinerators and landfills can be reused, recycled, and composted. Instead of using these sustainable methods, incineration destroys valuable resources and causes emissions of some of the most dangerous chemicals, like mercury, dioxins, and ultra-fine particles. Incinerators pose a grave climate risk as well– compared to coal, waste incineration produces twice as much carbon pollution per unit of energy. “Communities have always been at the forefront of enacting positive change by standing together and fighting against facilities that threat our health and environment. The Commerce Incinerator shutdown not only serves as a model for other communities facing similar issues, but is also another clear example of community power and victory,” says Whitney Amaya of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. Without the artificial boost of state subsidies, the Commerce Incinerator has proven itself to be an economic flop, leading the facility to close its doors in June. Waste incineration is the most expensive way to produce electricity, exceeding advanced nuclear energy, coal, solar, and wind. This has been a terrible year for the incinerator industry around the world, as citizens and policymakers are increasingly aware of the dangers that this practice poses to human health and the climate. Much like the fossil fuel divestment movement, governments are opting to defund waste burning, saving subsidies for renewable sources instead. Earlier this year the Maryland State Senate voted to remove subsidies for waste incineration, endangering a Wheelabrator incinerator in Baltimore that has long plagued the community with toxic air emissions. Late last year the Council of Mayors pointedly excluded incineration from its renewable energy plan. In Europe, long known as the champion of waste-to-energy, the European Parliament voted to halt subsidies for waste incineration. Ahmina Maxey, US & Canada Regional Coordinator at GAIA, states, “These developments throughout the US and Europe signal a sea change in public opinion on waste incineration as an outmoded and dangerous practice that, like the Commerce Incinerator, will soon be extinct.”


Big Soda Extorts Legislature To Prohibit Charges on Unsustainable Packaging

California “Soda Tax deal” includes preemption of charges or assessments on packaging

Contact: Shilpi Chhotray Senior Communications Officer, #breakfreefromplastic shilpi@breakfreefromplastic.org, 703.400.9986 (mobile)

Sacramento, CA - June 28, 2018​ - Today the California Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, Assembly Bill 1838 which would preempt local governments from levying fees and taxes on soda and other groceries. As has been widely reported, Coke, Pepsi, and other members of the American Beverage Association signed this backroom deal with California legislators in exchange for withdrawing a ballot measure that would make all local taxes require a ⅔ vote. In addition to prohibiting so called “Soda Taxes,” the legislation would also prohibit any charges on grocery packaging. Local fees and deposit systems have proven to be a successful tool in reducing waste, and have been used effectively by local jurisdictions for the past three decades. Members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement have expressed strong condemnation of this legislation:

“Threatening funding for local police, firefighters, parks, roads and public transit to force the legislature to prohibit residents from having a say on soda taxes or fees on packaging is not only an underhanded move by Big Soda, but it is also a perversion of our initiative process. The public has been clear that they want manufacturers to bare the cost of their impacts on our personal health and the health of our planet, and we urge local governments to stand up to this corporate bullying and use all the tools in their toolbox to achieve these goals.” - Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy for Californians Against Waste

"This bill will obstruct local efforts of groups working hard to deal with the plastic pollution crisis. This is just one more attempt by big industry to silence community activism - but the tide is turning on plastic pollution, and this is one issue that we fully expect to win." - Anna Wagner, Los Angeles-based Senior National Organizer, Greenpeace. “This bill is an egregious example of big soda exerting undue financial influence to try and prevent municipalities from protecting the health and well-being of our communities. As a movement, we plan to support local governments to oppose this going forward –as we believe strongly in a democratic process that puts people and planet over profits.” - Anna Cummins, Global Strategy Director for 5 Gyres “​This beverage industry today has silenced the voice of local communities and pre-empted them from incorporating health and environmental costs into the cost of their products. This is shameless and sets a bad precedent. Local communities should not be held hostage to industry giants, like Coke and Pepsi, in addressing costs to public health and the environment from products like sugary beverages or plastic packaging.” - Miriam Gordon, Policy Director, UPSTREAM “Taking away the right of local communities to regulate top forms of litter is an affront to democratic principles and the authority of local government. The everyday citizen loses when corporations, special interests and state lawmakers interfere in local law-making to protect communities from litter, pollution and blight.” - Angela T. Howe, Esq., Legal Director, Surfrider Foundation​ Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, over 1,200 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision. www.breakfreefromplastic.org.


Food to go? Bye bye to single-use containers!

This press release was created and posted by Zero Waste Europe and is available here. Press Contacts: Ferran ROSA, Waste Policy Officer, Zero Waste Europe: ferran@zerowasteeurope.eu /+32 (0) 2 73 62 091

Zero Waste Europe released today its latest case study on Recircle, a Swiss social enterprise that is determined to put an end to the flood of single-use containers for take-away food. The publication reports that only two years from the foundation, more than 400 restaurants across Switzerland are already using Recircle’s 70,000 reusable meal boxes with a deposit. Recircle’s scheme is not just preventing waste and litter but also saving money for cities and restaurants, while coming at zero cost to consumers. The case study illustrates how a small social enterprise can push for a large-scale and quick transition from disposable to reusable containers. According to Ferran Rosa, Zero Waste Europe’s Waste Policy Officer, “The case of Recircle shows that there are no more excuses not to ditch single-use containers when reusable alternatives are available, and they are easy to use, more sustainable and cheaper”. The publication also highlights some of the challenges that reusable schemes still have to face in order to fully develop, such as the lack of level playing field with regards to disposable containers. Among these, the fact that single-use containers tend to be free of charge for customers, which does not encourage them to rethink their habits. “Visible charges, levies or taxes have proved to be very effective in driving habits change, reducing the use of disposables  and boosting reusables. It is time to apply what we learned from plastic bags to take-away containers, and stop the flood of avoidable single-use packaging”, added Rosa. This document is part of a new series of case studies where Zero Waste Europe displays change-making initiatives from cities, companies and individuals that are challenging and transforming current business models. To read the case study, click here.


Why Women From Asia Are Confronting U.S. Fracking: Oil Extraction Equals Plastic Production

Volunteers collect garbage along the coast of Freedom Island during a ‘Break free from Plastic’ activity in Paranaque City, the Philippines. Photo by Xinhua/ROUELLE UMALI/Getty Images by . Article originally posted here.  
Plastic manufacturers are not responsible for the disposal of their products, so the burden is placed on people in the Philippines.
Heaps of plastic waste cover the shores of Manila Bay in the Philippines. Myrna Dominguez remembers when an abundance of fish inhabited its waters—locals would catch enough to feed their families and sell at the market. Today, she says, they are catching more plastic than fish. “We’re very afraid that if this is not addressed, the bay, which 100,000 small fishers rely on, will no longer be viable for them,” Dominguez says. In May, Dominguez and Indian labor organizer Lakshmi Narayan visited communities in the U.S. that are affected by pollution from oil extraction and plastic production, to show the effects that these processes have on communities overseas. The “Stopping Plastic Where It Starts Tour,” organized by #Breakfreefromplastic and Earthworks, is part of a project that aims to reduce plastic consumption and production by raising awareness about the impacts of plastic production on the communities at either end of its supply chain.
Dominguez and Narayan, representing communities in Asia experiencing the effects of plastic pollution, visited places in the U.S. experiencing the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) oil and gas production—an industry that is producing the raw materials to build plastic. Dominguez is the policy and advocacy adviser of the Asia Pacific Network on Food Sovereignty, which campaigns to protect the rights of small food producers such as fishers and farmers, and to preserve fishing grounds and cultural lands of indigenous communities. Narayan is the co-founder of Solid Waste and Collection Handling, a cooperative of waste-pickers in Pune, India, who collect waste throughout the city and separate it into categories for proper disposal. Both women represent groups from Asian countries that are dealing with the effects of plastic pollution—particularly plastic that is produced and distributed by U.S. companies. “I’m hoping this tour will change American people’s views of how they live every day, and how it impacts poor countries like us,” Dominguez says. “If America gets a cold, the Philippines gets the flu. We’re very dependent on the U.S., so whatever happens here affects us too.” The Philippines is the third largest ocean plastic polluter in the world—it also has the most persistent poverty rate in Southeast Asia. In 2017, the U.S. was the third largest plastic exporter in the world, exporting $6.8 billion worth of plastic items.
“There’s no easy, technological solution to the problem of ocean plastic waste.”
Single-use plastic products, such as straws and other utensils—and products packaged in plastic, including toiletries and food—are produced by transnational companies and marketed to people in places like the Philippines at low costs. The plastic waste from these products ends up in landfills or marine areas like Manila Bay. Plastic manufacturers are not responsible for the disposal of their products, so the burden is placed on people in the Philippines, who do not have the resources to properly dispose of all the waste, Dominguez says. “People have realized there’s no easy, technological solution to the problem of ocean plastic waste, and the only way to stop ocean plastic is to stop plastic,” says Jennifer Krill. Krill is the executive director of Earthworks, an environmental and social justice organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of mining and energy extraction. “If we were to somehow recover all that waste from the ocean, we would still have to put it in a landfill or in an incinerator, and there would be significant environmental impacts from those solutions. The better solution would be to not make so much of it to begin with.” That’s why Dominguez and Narayan traveled to the U.S., where the women visited communities affected by fracking. In the U.S., a fracking boom is helping fuel plastic production worldwide by providing a necessary building block of plastic: ethane. Dominguez and Narayan visited communities experiencing the impacts of fracking in Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They also visited Washington D.C.
In 2017, the U.S. consumed around 1.2 million barrels of ethane per day.
In Texas, for example, a major fracking boom is underway. A new report by IHS Markit shows the Permian Basin in West Texas is expecting a surge in oil production—more than double by 2023—in large part because of fracking, which has made trapped oil and gas accessible. Fracking involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals underground to release gas and oil from rock. The shale formations used for extracting oil and gas in the U.S. are high in ethane, which is wasted in the extraction process unless the industry has a way to bring it to market. “Currently what we’re seeing is a major build-out of new petrochemical manufacturing in order for the industry to recover that waste ethane and convert it into plastic, most of which is also going to become waste, but along the way they’ll make a lot of money manufacturing it into plastic,” Krill says. In 2017, the U.S. consumed around 1.2 million barrels of ethane per day, and exported around 180,000 barrels per day to countries overseas. Earthworks—one of the organizations that organized the tour—has recently introduced a Community Empowerment Project to provide communities near oil and gas facilities with data on methane and ethane pollution from nearby oil and gas extraction sites by using an optical gas imaging camera that makes invisible ethane—and methane—pollution from these sites visible. Not only does methane and ethane pollution contribute to climate change, but it also causes health issues for people who live near oil and gas facilities—in the U.S., that’s more than 17 million people. Residents who live near these facilities have reported experiencingrespiratory problems such as asthma and coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness, trouble sleeping, and fatigue.
“If we are going to stop plastic we need to stop plastic where it starts.”
The organization has been taking the camera to oil and gas wells, pipelines, and compressor stations to show government regulators and companies that the methane and ethane pollution problem is real. Gas imaging videos are available on Earthworks’ YouTube channel for citizens to use as evidence when urging regulators in their states to require operators clean up the gas waste.

“It hasn’t stopped pollution—it hasn’t been as effective as we’d like it to be yet,” Krill says about the project. But she hopes it will be. “The industry likes to say ‘There’s no pollution, we’re very clean,’ and with this video evidence it’s hard to deny that there’s a serious problem with oil and gas extraction.”

On a global scale, the #Breakfreefromplastic movement, made up of 1,000 organizations worldwide, has been focused on creating “zero-waste cities” in Malaysia, India, and the Philippines—teaching communities about separating organic from inorganic waste, composting, and recycling. Narayan, who represents the waste-pickers who collect and separate waste in Pune, India, says the process of recycling plastics into reusable materials is so expensive that the waste is often not recyclable at all. #Breakfreefromplastic also focuses on making the public aware of their consumption habits in hopes of reducing the use of one-use plastic products, and pushing for “corporate accountability,” says Jed Alegado, the Asia Pacific communications officer for #Breakfreefromplastic. “Corporations that have the money to come up with these products should invest in more sustainable and ecological distribution systems for their products,” Alegado says. “They shouldn’t pass the burden to consumers and governments for the plastic waste they are creating.” Growing up in the Philippines, Dominguez recalls using coconut shells as plates, and eating food with her bare hands—before large companies had convinced the world that plastic products are a necessity, she says. Dominguez is optimistic that change can occur by educating and inspiring people to reduce their use of plastic products and become vocal about how the government handles waste. “If we are going to stop plastic we need to stop plastic where it starts,” Krill says. “We can’t let greed get in the way of common sense and sustainability.”