The problem with plastic pollution isn’t just that it exists; mismanaged plastic waste grows exponentially by the day, and failure to develop strategies to minimize it will soon lead to an issue that’s too big to tackle. Clean up efforts are no longer enough. We must stop it at its source.
While legislative approaches like Extended Producer Responsibility will eventually lead to less plastic waste, we need immediate action to address mismanaged plastic waste now. A key part of this is in education.
Often, mismanaged plastic waste is the result of both lack of resources and lack of knowledge surrounding the dangers of plastic pollution. Members of communities most affected by plastic pollution want to see a cleaner environment, but they don’t understand that their current behaviors are harmful.
This is why a huge part of TONTOTON’s Plastic-Free Coastlines Movement includes education. We believe that local communities have power to enact great change, but they need to be aware of the problem in order to do so. Here’s how education changes behavior and what TONTOTON is doing to ensure that vulnerable communities are aware of the plastic pollution problem and what they can do to stop it.
How education changes behavior
Although education doesn’t change behavior, it’s an important step toward behavior change.
In the article Advocating for Behavior Change, the authors state that behavior change is more likely when those being educated see how they are personally affected by that behavior. So, a person might know and understand that plastic pollution is bad and has a negative effect on both humans and the environment, but if they can’t see how it personally affects them, they are less likely to change their behavior.
This is why TONTOTON focuses our education and awareness in areas where plastic pollution is a visible and immediate problem. Those we are educating are affected by plastic pollution every day and are, therefore, more likely to make daily changes in order to reduce plastic pollution than those who don’t deal with plastic waste on a daily basis. They are also the ones who will most benefit from this behavior change.
And, members of these communities have already noticed a change. Beyond the collection of plastic waste, less plastic waste is being dumped or burned, reducing litter overall.
The importance of education and awareness surrounding plastic pollution in southeast Asia
Although plastic pollution is a global issue, some countries have less of a plastic pollution problem than others. Unfortunately, Southeast Asian countries have some of the biggest levels of plastic pollution in the world.
The ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States (2021 – 2025) analyzed the amount of plastic pollution produced by individual countries, the source of that plastic pollution, and the best ways that governments and other entities could work to reduce that plastic waste. Again and again, it was found that southeast Asian countries would benefit from more organized waste management systems as well as improved education surrounding plastic litter and proper waste management.
In countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, waste management is up to the private sector outside of urban areas. This often leads to mismanaged systems in lieu of proper education surrounding plastic waste and other types of waste. For example, it’s still common practice for individual households to either dump their waste into waterways or burn or bury their trash. However, these management methods only lead to chemicals leaking into the environment, causing sickness. Additionally, dumped waste will eventually accumulate to levels that low-income communities do not have the resources to handle, even leaking into households. Poorly managed waste isn’t just unsightly to look at; it produces life-threatening consequences.
Simply educating those who live in these areas about the dangers of plastic pollution and how to properly manage all types of waste can reduce mismanaged waste. Because southeast Asian countries are among the biggest plastic polluters, it’s important to educate those who live in these areas about proper waste management before it enters our oceans.
How TONTOTON’s Plastic-Free Coastlines Movement uses education to change behavior
TONTOTON’s approach to plastic pollution is all about additionality. We encourage our corporate partners to take responsibility for more than just the plastic waste that they produce, and to claim all plastic waste surrounding their products. We focus on a type of plastic that is largely ignored, orphan plastic, in order to remove all plastic waste rather than just the recyclable types. And, we continuously look for ways to improve our recycling methods and address the plastic pollution problem in the safest, quickest, and most environmentally friendly way possible.
Our educational campaigns are part of our additionality. We seek to eliminate plastic pollution in high-risk areas, and this includes prevention through awareness. In the same communities we are working to clean, we have also launched education and awareness campaigns for both adults and children.
In the communities in which we work, waste management is left up to the private sector. Because it is privately dealt with, there are simply not enough resources to properly manage the vast amount of waste. This issue is further exacerbated by a lack of knowledge surrounding proper waste management approaches, and many individuals in these communities will bury, burn, or throw their waste into waterways.
Through education and awareness, we encourage those in these communities to get rid of their trash in a more environmentally friendly manner. We teach them about the dangers of plastic pollution and other mismanaged waste and how to properly manage their waste. Offering trainings for both adults and children, we work in schools, community centers, and other settings in order to make community members aware of the dangers of plastic pollution. Furthermore, through careful branding, we are creating a community of environmentally-minded people who hope to free coastlines and vulnerable villages of the plastic waste scourge. We are seeking to not only spread awareness of the issue but to become a recognizable presence associated with cleaner oceans and waterways.
For those looking to take responsibility for their plastic waste in a way that goes above and beyond, TONTOTON may be the environmental partner you need.