States or Companies? Whose responsible for the dumping of plastic into the ocean

A 2016 report produced by the Ellen MacArthur foundation studying the impact that the growing importance of plastic in global economies is having on the level of sea pollution in the region found that plastic production has increased twenty fold since 1964 and reached 311 million tonnes in 2014. Additionally, the report noted that currently the equivalent of one garbage truck of waste is being dumped into the ocean every minute and this figure is likely to double or triple by 2030 and 2050 if no action is taken. However, despite the damning evidence and blatant impact that rising levels of plastic in the world’s oceans is having on the environment there has been little to no interest in solving the crisis from the country’s most responsible:

  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand

These five South-East Asian countries contribute to 60% of plastic in the world’s oceans. A contribution which has been steadily rising at a time correlating with the increasing westernisation and industrialisation of the state’s economies. This correlation has slowed the process of solving the environmental crisis as there has been increasing debates as to where responsibility truly lies, as the responsible states have been keen to highlight the significant role that Western companies indirectly play in the dumping of plastic. Is it therefore possible that those directly dumping are not mainly responsible for the roughly 8 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean each year? And will the dumping continue and potentially grow if neither side is willing to acknowledge their accountability?

The core argument framing Western companies as the main culprits of plastic pollution in South-East Asian countries revolves around noting the impact the selling of cheap small products made in disposable non-recyclable plastic has on the environment. The size of the products sold by these companies is the most significant factor noted by the leaders of China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand as well as environmental actors such as Greenpeace. These states and NGOs contend that Western companies take advantage of people on low and limited incomes to sell cheap goods in small quantities without any thought for the environmental impact. The selling of goods in this manner has led to the coining of the phrase ‘Sachet economy’, and the Philippines is a great example of this, as products such as instant coffee, shampoo, cooking oil, food seasoning and tooth paste are sold in single use sachets to a country of 103 million people where the high levels of poverty minimise the financial ability of bulk buying. The problems resulting from ‘sachet economies’ are only likely to worsen as the increasing modernisation and westernisation of these states economies has led to a dramatic increase in demand for consumer products, and yet there is no interest from the western companies producing the small cheap goods polluting our oceans due to there being no acknowledgment of responsibility and financial benefit for them.

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However, Western companies such as Nestle cannot be held totally accountable for the increasing rates of plastic pollution. In fact, in a 2016 report Greenpeace criticised and declared both Western companies and the South-East Asian countries as culpable for sea pollution. Using the Philippines as an example once again, Greenpeace found that 1.88 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean was in fact recyclable. This statistic becomes less shocking when one considers that 74% of plastic being dumped by the Philippines happens after the waste has been collected. In this sense, even if Western companies did improve the recyclability and size of its goods, it remains unlikely that we would see a drop-in the levels of plastic in the ocean unless collection facilities and transport systems were modernised.

This is a trend that is present throughout the five countries most responsible for dumping as on average only 50% of their total trash is collected. Therefore, a key method of improving levels of plastic in the ocean would be a modernising and expanding of garbage services, as well as closing leakage points in collection facilities, improving education on the benefits of recycling and increasing the financial incentives linked to being environmentally friendly. Should some or all of these suggestions be adopted then these five countries could reduce their plastic leakage by 65%, which would cut global leakage by 45% by 2025 at a cost of just $5 billion a year according to the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment. However, the determination from these South-East Asian countries to grow economically at the expense of any other concerns including environmental makes the implementation of such changes extremely unlikely.

What is therefore required is a recognition of responsibility from both the Western companies supplying one-use throw away goods and the South-East Asian countries allowing the dumping to occur. Once there has been this recognition then the childish squabbling can cease and there can finally be effective discussions about how to end this growing crisis. Yet, when one considers that financial concerns consistently trump environmental worries then the implementation of real and lasting change on the volume of plastic being dumped into the ocean unfortunately remains slim.

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The cost of the war on drugs in the Philippines

Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Philippines through the votes of 16 million Filipinos who bought into and supported his law and order campaign message. The promise Duterte built his campaign around focused upon tackling Philippines growing drug problem through viewing the lives and human rights of users and dealers as disposable.

President Duterte outlined his approach during his inaugural address when he vowed to ‘slaughter these idiots for destroying my country’, and has since enabled the assassination of more than 6,000 people by law enforcement agencies, paramilitary groups and vigilantes as well as claiming to have killed people himself. The legitimising of using murder as a tool to tackle a social problem has thrown the Philippines into a state of lawlessness, and although Duterte’s approval ratings remain a steady 83%, there is a notable increase of pressures on the state’ political system, infrastructure, and human rights record because of the war on drugs.

Impact on state’s political system and reputation

President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs has negatively impacted the politics of the Philippines both domestically and internationally. In a domestic sense, there is clear evidence that the Duterte administration deliberately inflated the estimated numbers of drug users in the country in order to utilise the fear vote within the electorate. Furthermore, Duterte’s ‘blind eye’ to the killing of drug users and dealers has led to mass corruption and the planting of evidence within the police force with no consequence. The lack of action taken to curb the volume of murders committed in the name of the President’s war on drugs has resulted in a wave of criticism from political opponents and the international community which has been met by Duterte in a less than politically correct manner.

In fact, it is Duterte’s response to the aforementioned criticism that is perhaps the greatest threat to the Philippines political system, as instead of answering the calls for accountability, the President has initiated a campaign against political enemies centred around harassment, intimidation and imprisonment. A key example of this was the framing and subsequent arrest of former secretary of justice Senator Leila de Lima on politically motivated drug charges as well as Duterte’s threats to kill human rights activists and assassinate journalists.

 

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In response to international criticism Duterte has adopted a different approach revolved around vulgar rhetoric and the denouncing of other world leaders and organisations. Most notably, despite the Philippines close relationship with the US as well as its reliance on American aid, former US President Barrack Obama was called a ‘son of a whore’ who should ‘go to hell’ after suggesting Duterte should deal with the drug problem ‘the right way’.  Equally, Duterte reportedly told the European Union to ‘Fuck Off’ when they requested an end to the extrajudicial killings of drug users and dealers. The undertaking of such an approach only further harms the Philippines reputation as well as highlight the unwillingness of the government to address the mass killings of civilians.

Impact on infrastructure

A number of drug users or dealers found by the state police were imprisoned rather than executed, however this has placed extra pressures on the state’s prison systems and has again highlighted the absence of human rights granted to those arrested. Data provided the Philippines government indicates that jails within the state currently hold 132,000 detainees who are awaiting trial or sentencing, despite the fact that facilities have a maximum capacity of just 20,399. The overpopulation within prisons has proliferated pre-existing issues regarding inadequate food and unsanitary conditions, as well as lead to an increase in violence between inmates as rival drug gangs are frequently situated in the same block.

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President Duterte’s response to the lack of adequate infrastructure has been typically limited to the extent that a 10,000-bed treatment and rehabilitation centre opened in December 2016 was funded solely by the Chinese government. However, it should be noted that the treatment centre shortly fell into international disrepute by using physical and emotional abuse as the only means of treatment. As a consequence, there is a lack of interest from the international community to fund rehabilitation and prison facilities until the Philippines begins operating within the universal declaration of human rights.

Impact on human rights record

The rate of roughly 33 killed for every 1 person injured makes President Duterte’s campaign the most-deadly drug war in history. As previously mentioned, more than 6,000 have been killed by enforcement agencies, 2,000 of which were in ‘self-defence; during anti-drug operations, according to the police. A claim which becomes utterly questionable when one considers the widespread corruption within the police as well as the fact that many of those dead have been found in horrific circumstances such as being bound and gagged, faces being wrapped in masking tape, and being piled up under bridges or even on the street. Evidence such as this suggests that not only is murder legitimised but also the torture and humiliation of those captured.

 In response to this there have been continuous and growing calls for President Duterte and his administration to be investigated by the international criminal court on the basis that his war on drugs constitutes a crime against humanity. The foundations of this belief comes from the absence of trials given to suspects, the torturing of victims as well as the mass killing of civilians giving the impression that Duterte is cleansing his state. Characteristically Duterte’s response denounces these claims by labelling foreign lawyers as ‘idiots’ who use ‘bullshit’ threats to influence the domestic politics of the Philippines, thus implying that the killing and torturing of civilians will continue.

To conclude, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs will end. Alternatively, it is likely that Duterte will use his high approval ratings as a justification for the expansion of the war as well as a means to purge and silence his political opponents. Therefore, one can argue that without international intervention the murdering of civilians and their imprisonment in subhuman overcrowded prisons will continue at least till the end of Duterte’s presidential term.