In order to stop plastic pollution, all stakeholders need to be involved. Although current legislative trends, like Extended Producer Responsibility, place the majority of the responsibility for achieving sustainability goals in the hands of businesses and corporations, sustainability experts agree that producers aren’t the only ones responsible for our planet; we all have a role to play.
As companies better understand their unique role in sustainability, they are doing more to reduce their impact on the environment. When it comes to plastic pollution, this means limiting the production of plastics as well as opting for recyclable plastic or plastics made from recycled materials. Although these actions have a huge impact, they don’t address the plastic waste, especially non-recyclable plastic waste, currently in circulation.
In areas where waste management is mostly left up to the private sector, like many countries in Southeast Asia, plastic waste leakage often goes unchecked. Very few types of plastic waste have value, and waste collectors leave low- and no-value plastic waste abandoned to nature which eventually become ocean-bound plastic.
Furthermore, a lack of education surrounding plastic waste in these areas leads to members of local communities to improperly manage their plastic waste by burying or burning their plastic waste or even just throwing it on the ground. Because much of the plastic waste that’s improperly managed holds no value, few organizations step up to address the plastic leakage problems in these areas.
This creates both a global and local issue; while community members are drowning in harmful plastic waste, much of the plastic waste is eventually lost to the oceans where it kills marine life and harms marine ecosystems. This is why TONTOTON has developed a system that addresses plastic leakage and seeks to stop it at its source.
Plastic leakage doesn’t come from a single source. Plastic leakage occurs at all levels, from production to the day the waste is discarded. Within Southeast Asia, a lot of plastic leakage comes from households.
In 2018, each person consumed an average of 41.3kg of plastic in Vietnam. Only 27% of this plastic waste was recycled. Much of the remaining 73% of plastic waste was improperly managed.
Furthermore, the importation of plastic waste has exacerbated the plastic pollution problem. This type of plastic waste often ends up in already overwhelmed waste management facilities where it leaks into nature. Although the importation of plastic waste in Southeast Asia is diminishing, with countries like Vietnam banning it altogether, the damage has already been done, and imported plastic waste has already leaked into the environment.
Stopping plastic leakage from households in Southeast Asia
Preventing plastic leakage in Southeast Asia requires action from the government, individuals, and the private sector. While governments are taking some action to minimize the plastic pollution problem, such as banning the importation of plastic waste, many governments are also prioritizing economic growth over sustainability legislation. This leaves responsibility in the hands of individuals and the private sector.
In order to stop plastic leakage, it will require an effort from multiple entities. While businesses and governments work to reduce the amount of plastic waste being produced, individuals and the private sector must do what they can to stop current plastic leakage. This requires individuals and sustainability entities to work together. Through education, incentivization, and accessibility, we can clean areas where plastic leakage is at its worst, reducing the amount of plastic waste that enters our oceans, creating cleaner and safer communities, and reversing some of the damage done from plastic waste leakage.
This is especially important among households in vulnerable communities along the coast and riverways. Rivers often act as a highway for mismanaged plastic waste, gathering in coastal communities. These communities are already drowning in plastic waste, and while valued plastic will be collected by waste pickers, low-value plastic—such as straws and plastic bags—are ignored. As the plastic waste piles up, it becomes a health and safety hazard for community members, kills marine life (much of which local community members depend upon), and ultimately makes its way unto the ocean as marine plastic.
By addressing household plastic waste leakage within these communities, we’re addressing global plastic pollution while creating a better quality of life for those in vulnerable communities.
How TONTOTON stops plastic leakage at its source
Areas with poor waste management need help from the private sector, especially in vulnerable communities where plastic leakage is at an emergency level. TONTOTON provides that service.
We work in communities in Vietnam and Cambodia where plastic leakage is at its worst. We primarily focus on low-value, post-consumer plastic, what we call orphan plastic, because this type of plastic waste cannot be sold to recycling centers making it useless to waste pickers. In order to incentivize its collection, we’ve monetized it, providing an additional source of income to individuals and waste pickers in the communities in which we work.
But, we go beyond collecting plastic waste that’s already leaked into the environment. We’re also working to stop plastic leakage from occurring in these areas. We do so by working with schools and community centers to educate locals about proper plastic waste management and the dangers of improperly managed plastic waste. Furthermore, we provide resources to help make plastic waste management at the household level a little easier. For example, we provide receptacles where households can easily sort their plastic waste rather than littering, burning, or burying their plastic trash.
Help stop plastic leakage and become a corporate partner
Because we focus on low-value plastic waste, we require funding from outside sources. We fund our projects through a certified plastic credit system that allows companies that are concerned about their plastic footprint to take responsibility for their plastic waste.
Our projects take an additional stance. We fill a major gap in the plastic waste market by removing non-recyclable plastic waste from the environment and working with community members to stop plastic leakage at its source. Our corporate partners can also enjoy this additionality; while they work to minimize their internal plastic production and consumption, they can take responsibility for the plastic waste that they’ve already cultivated by investing in our plastic credit system.
It’s a win for everyone. Local community members enjoy employment opportunities and a cleaner environment, your company has the opportunity to reduce its plastic footprint, and less plastic waste is leaked into our oceans.