The Power of Romanticism

If this report noted in the Mail is correct:

A shocking study has revealed 90 per cent of the world’s plastic waste comes from just 10 rivers in Asia and Africa.

As governments around the world rush to address the global problem of plastic pollution in the oceans, researchers have now pinpointed the river systems that carry the majority of it out to sea.

About five trillion pounds is floating in the sea, and targeting the major sources – such as the Yangtze and the Ganges – could almost halve it, scientists claim.


The Yangtze has been estimated in previous research to dump some 727 million pounds of plastic into the sea each year.

The Ganges River in India is responsible for even more – about 1.2 billion pounds.

A combination of the Xi, Dong and Zhujiang Rivers (233 million lbs per year) in China as well as four Indonesian rivers: the Brantas (85 million lbs annually), Solo (71 million pounds per year), Serayu (37 million lbs per year) and Progo (28 million lbs per year), are all large contributors.

I don’t interpret that as saying that the U. S. is off the hook. We’re enormously overwrapped, overpackaged, and we don’t recycle nearly enough. But it also suggests to me even if the U. S. didn’t produce any plastic waste at all there would still be a problem and it’s a problem that follows a pattern.

What struck me most about this article is how much of our policy and politics as it relates to the rest of the world is based on some combination of patronization, romanticism, and nostalgia. Any country that throws over a billion pounds of plastic into a single river isn’t a poor country any more. It’s a wasteful middle class country.

5 comments… add one
  • Guarneri Link

    I’m shocked (shocked !!) to learn there is tremendous pollution waste in China and India.

    Its the same issue as CO2. We can do sensible things, but we can’t commit industrial suicide in the process. The zealots fairy tale musings aside.

  • Gray Shambler Link

    Recycling is a religion, What we need is biodegradable plant based plastic substitutes. Maybe THAT’S worth a research grant or two.

  • That already exists. It’s called “PLA” (polylactic acid) and it’s made from corn starch.

    There’s an irreconcilable conflict. If it degrades too fast, it’s unusable. If it doesn’t degrade fast enough, it has the same problem as petroleum-based plastics. Additionally, articles made from PLA can’t be recycled the way that petroleum-based plastics are. That means they’ve got to be separated from them in recycling which complicates matters.

  • TarsTarkas Link

    It never would have occurred to me to ask where all the plastic in the ocean was coming from. I would have assumed most of it came from North America and Europe. Learn something every day, also learning even more so that if the USA, Canada, and Europe and all their people vanished from the world simultaneously it would only make a slight dent in warming rates and pollution. BTW the study is a study of considerable extrapolation, but I think some of its assumptions are reasonable.

  • I would have assumed most of it came from North America and Europe

    Ultimately, that may be right. China and India, along with other countries, have been importing our trash for many years. We thought they were sorting it and prepping it to recycle it. They may have been separating the easily recyclable from the non-recyclable and throwing everything that wasn’t easily recyclable into their rivers.

    That supports a point I’ve made here before. When you export your problems to China, they become intractable.

    Recently, China has refused to accept any more of our trash. That means we’ll need to come to terms with it soon.

Leave a Comment