Plastic is a problem that’s got out of hand in the West. We produce too much, consume too much and recycle far too little. Our problems however, are are creating ripple effects in every corner of the globe. Western multinational corporations producing and overusing plastic, our NIMBY waste management systems, and the general public’s lack of exposure from news from the Global South, has fuelled a dramatic plastic issue in the Global South. Western-driven plastic obsession is affecting ecosystems, drinking water sources and people’s livelihoods in the Global South to a level that’s unthinkable until you witness it first hand.
Everyday, people in Europe, North America and Australia diligently sort their plastic recycling, assuming that the waste will be transformed into new items. Few know that the plastic they think is being recycled, often gets shipped to Global South nations. Countries like Indonesia have become a dumping ground for Western nations who want to export their recyclables for lower labour costs. Though until the waste arrives, importing countries have no idea what they receive, a lot of it contaminated unfit for recycling. Instead of taking responsibility for the waste they produce, Western nations have adopted an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ strategy which leaves countries like Indonesia overrun with un-recyclable plastic waste contaminating their ecosystems and waterways.
There are, however, organisations fighting for systemic solutions globally including systemic solutions starting from the Global South. We have listed 10 organisations taking a big picture approach to addressing the plastic issue we are facing, offering actionable solutions and inspiring change.
Ocean Bottle is the reusable water bottle that makes an impact. For each bottle sold, they fund the collection of 1,000 ocean-bound plastic bottles in weight. The plastic collection provides residents of costal communities with sustainable livelihood opportunities, alleviating poverty and strengthening local economies. Their collection system is based on their ethos that environmental justice is social justice. They currently work with communities in Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines, with their goal being to provide sustainable, long-term incomes for communities in the Global South.
The Indonesian-based, plastic clean-up company Sungai Watch is a community and grassroots organisation that works towards protecting the worlds waterways. They aim to intercept and clean up plastic waste before it enters the ocean from rivers in Bali. Since August 2020, they have collected 45,000 kgs of trash from Indonesias rivers by constructing simple trash barriers that prevent plastic from drifting into the ocean. Every single day, patrol teams from Sungai Watch visit all their 50+ barriers all over Bali to clean up any waste that has accumulated overnight.
The largest ocean clean up project in history led by the NGO Ocean Cleanup aims to to clean up 90% of all ocean plastic. Their two main ways of achieving this is intercepting plastic from rivers before it enters the ocean, and cleaning up the oceans themselves. Their ocean focus projects uses cutting-edge technology to remove plastics which has ended up in vortexes of circulating currents, otherwise known as garbage patches. By creating an artificial shoreline in the ocean, they are able to concentrate large quantities of plastic in one place for easy removal. Their river project targets 1,000 rivers and uses the Interceptor, a waste collecting boar run on solar power that efficiently collects waste.
Plastic Bag Diet Movement
The Plastic Bag Diet is an Indonesian movement that encourages people to rethink their use of plastic bags while fighting for government and policy change. Their solutions-oriented campaign #Pay4Plastic reached a massive milestone in 2019, after 6 years of successful campaigning. The the Indonesian Retail Entrepreneurs Association changed their policy on free plastic bags and now charge for plastic bags in all their retail establishments. They continue their advocacy through organising beach cleans, holding public protests and educating people on consumer choices.
Kenya-based Flipflopi, is combining art, boatbuilding and innovation to showcase how plastic waste can be turned into new materials. By using traditional boatbuilding techniques and plastic waste collected on a local beach, they created a traditional boat called a dhow. The boat, nicknamed Flipflopi after the sheer amount of flip flops that was used to make it, sailed the East coast of Africa in 2017 to raise awareness of plastic pollution. By building the Flipflopi dhow, the team hope to start a global plastic revolution and encourage more people to reuse plastic waste in innovative ways and to create a circular economy society.
Global Plastic Action Partnership
The Global Plastic Action Partnership, or GPAP, is an initiative by the World Economic Forum to shape a more sustainable future through the eradication of plastic pollution. They work with organisations, partners and governments in Indonesia, Ghana, Vietnam and Nigeria to create conservations and provide funding for actionable solutions. GPAP is dedicated to creating a circular economy and closing the loop in the plastic lifecycle by supporting grassroots plastic recycling initiatives in the Global South.
Bye Bye Plastic Bags
Bali-based sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen founded the campaign Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB) in 2013 by asking themselves what they could do to change the world today. BBPB is a global, youth-led organisation that empowers youth to fight for a future with no plastic bags. The campaign has chapters in over 50 countries and is founded on the pillars of policy change, education and showing solutions. They want world leaders and school children alike to be inspired to tackle plastic waste in Indonesia and all over the world.
Gjenge Makers is a company solving Nairobi’s plastic waste problem by creating paving blocks for construction. They collect unrecyclable plastic waste from waste management facilities, process the plastic into construction blocks and install these in driveways, gardens and outdoor spaces. The blocks also lower the cost of building materials, with the potential of creating more affordable, sustainable housing in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Lead by a young women, Gjenge Makers also provide incomes for young people in Kenya, supporting the next generation of women within sustainability.
Divers Clean Action
By working with Universities and divers, Divers Clean Action (DCA) is able to both do research on marine debris and collect marine plastic. The Indonesia-based, youth-led NGO uses marine pollution data to create real-time maps of the marine plastic pollution problem on Indonesias small islands. The collective is passionate about raising awareness of plastic waste, how it makes it way into waterways and what can be done about it. DCA joined a partnership of organisations called Save Our Small Islands, dedicated to making Indonesians small islands sustainable, environmentally friendly and free of waste.
Plastics For Change
The Indian organisation Plastics For Change is dedicated to the most undervalued, yet most important part of the plastic recycling system, the informal plastic waste collector. They aim to bring awareness about the plastic recycling system and its neglect of the people who do the most intensive labour. Through education and community development they provide financial trainings, food and water security, professional upskilling, emergency relief and low cost housing to plastic waste collectors, who most often are women. Last year they partnered with other organisations to create safe housing for informal waste workers made from plastic waste, replacing the temporary tents they lived in.