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PH contributes to over one-third of world’s ocean plastic pollution, recent study shows

[UPDATED] In a recent study, seven rivers in the Philippines are among the top 10 waterways with the most plastic that flows into oceans
A backhoe and a backhoe loader compact garbage in a dumpsite in Tondo, Manila on Feb. 16, 2008. Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo

The Philippines contributes to 36 percent of plastic waste that end up in the world’s oceans, a study by engineering environmental nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup revealed.

Researchers had estimated that the country contributed to almost half of Asia’s plastic waste in 2019, greater than the combined plastic waste emissions of all the other continents except Antarctica.

Pasig River is ranked as the world’s worst plastic-polluted river, containing six percent of all the plastic thrown into the world’s oceans. Six other rivers in the country were listed among the top 10 “plastic-emitting” rivers in the world:

  • Tullahan River in Metro Manila
  • Meycauayan River in Bulacan
  • Pampanga River in Pampanga
  • Libmanan River in Bicol
  • Rio Grande de Mindanao River in Mindanao
  • Agno River in Pangasinan

In 2010, the Philippines was estimated to have dumped 0.28-0.75 million metric tons of plastic waste into the sea, according to a 2015 landmark study led by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Access Ocean Cleanup’s interactive map here.

Concerns about trash

The Climate Change Commission said the findings raise “extreme concern” on mismanaged plastic wastes in the country, adding that it supports their urgent demands to solve the crisis by “implementing measures to regulate and […] halt the production of unnecessary [plastic products].”

Earlier studies that believe large, highly populated river basins with poor waste management practices dump huge amounts of trash. But in the latest research, smaller rivers may serve a “bigger role than we thought” considering how likely plastics can drain from rivers and flow into the oceans, Our World in Data explained.

Wooden rubbish and debris float near fisherman boats along the Manila Bay seaside on June 2, 2008. Photo by Shubert Ciencia
Wooden rubbish and debris float near fisherman boats along the Manila Bay seaside on June 2, 2008.
Photo by Shubert Ciencia

Most of the world’s top-emitting rivers are said to have four things in common:

  1. Poor local solid waste management practices that contribute to increased plastic waste emissions;
  2. Nearby cities with paved surfaces that let water and plastics flow smoothly;
  3. Rainy climate that promotes faster flow of water and plastics; and
  4. Nearby coastal lines where people in tropical archipelagos such as Indonesia and the Philippines usually live.

“Focusing on implementing mitigation measures in small- to medium-sized rivers already could considerably reduce plastic emissions,” the study suggests.

Cutting down on plastics

Legislative measures to reduce the usage of plastic are either in Congress or have been implemented.

House Bill 9147, which regulates the use of single-use plastic products such as straws and coffee stirrers, has been approved on second reading.

Earlier in February, the said plastic products were included in the National Solid Waste Management Commission’s list of non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging despite heavy resistance from agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry.

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