But what about every other plastic item that ends up in your trash can on a daily basis? Plastic bags, utensils, cups, plates, wrappers, and cartons. What does it truly mean to “throw it away,” and where does it eventually end up? The answer is simple: This plastic waste is dumped in landfills towering over communities, strewn on every shoreline, and piled in heaps overseas in the backyards of island nations where it is left for them to sort. Forget recycling. The system is completely broken and hasn’t worked effectively for years. As mentioned in the recent documentary The Story Of Plastic, the lifespan of plastic is insidious. The ocean has regurgitated tons of discarded plastic waste, but that only represents a small portion of the problem.
Malaysia has been one of the biggest used plastic importers: From January to July 2018, approximately 754,000 tons of plastic waste were imported into the country. With nowhere to store all this waste, since 2017, the small town of Jenjarom has been smothered with 19,000 tons of discarded plastics.
According to the Malaysian State Council, there were soon 33 illegal plastic recycling factories in Jenjarom, which disposed of a portion of the waste through burning. Burning plastics releases dangerous chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid and sulfur dioxide, as well as particulates. These emissions are known to cause stress to human immune systems, and they’re potentially carcinogenic.
The BBC has reported that residents of Jenjarom experienced skin rashes and respiratory issues. It’s a similar story for those living next to the Dandora landfill site on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Cows graze along the site, feeding on the organic waste among the plastic. These cows are often slaughtered for human consumption, and occasionally, plastic can be found in their stomachs. Ingesting microplastics leads to a variety of health problems, including reproductive harm, obesity, organ problems, and developmental delays in children.
Over seven decades ago, in 1945, the protests at Haulover Beach in Miami were a significant spark that helped set ablaze the civil rights movement. Fast-forward to 2020, and the deep wound of racial inequality must be faced and actively healed by all parties. Reconciliation and remediation will be the only ways in which we can forge a path forward. When people talk about pollution, we’re often reminded that everything is interconnected. Environmental pollution will eventually cascade back to every single human on the planet in some shape or form. However, it is crucial for us to recognize that environmental pollution disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities everywhere. Harnessing clean natural energy from wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal sources still remains the most logical and clearest solution to halt this hot mess known as climate change. With greater access to every form of clean energy combined with the wonders of human technological innovation, we have the divine opportunity to finally create the infrastructure to power our lifestyles the right way. As a single droplet of water falls from the sky and adds to a stream, that serves a river, that ends up in the sea, we as individuals can come together to create an ocean of change.