If we do not do something about littering our planet, we will soon have more plastic than fish in our oceans. EU aid can make a real difference to the environment if we invest in proper waste management and plastic reduction in low- and middle-income countries - not least in Asia, writes Veronica Sällemark.
The monsoon rains hit the streets of Myanmar angrily in the summer of 2018. This is what must have inspired the creation of the high-pressure washer, I thought. The heavy drops formed urban rapids that swirled quickly along the streets and washed away remnants of plastic.
Myanmar was the world's second most vulnerable country to devastating climate change between 1995 and 2004, according to the organization Germanwatch. Now the country faced another rainy season where people were forced to flee their homes.
The typical Swedish saying "there is no bad weather, only bad clothes" rang in my ears. But it rang falsely in the light of the fighting stream of climate refugees who were forced to flee because of the extreme rainfall that washed away houses and homes.
I felt too privileged to be disturbed by the 40% humidity. And we should not even talk about the daily dose of monsoon rain. Or rain poncho (in just plastic) that uncomfortably stuck in the sweat in the XNUMX-degree heat.
Yangon is flooded with rubbish
As Myanmar has experienced steady economic growth since the country began to open up, consumption has also increased. However, the authorities still lack the finances to handle all waste produced. Instead, beautiful Yangon is flooded with debris. But the situation is not unique to Yangon, but other coastal cities in Asia are also flooded with rubbish.
What then happens to the plastic that is thrown on the streets? Globally, the whole thing ends up 70 percent of the plastic in our waterways or buried in large landfills that poison our lands. Another bad solution is that it is burned, which forms toxic gases that end up in humans and nature.
This is serious and it is expected to get worse. Plastic use in the world has increased 20-fold over the past 50 years and is expected to double in the next 20. In 2050, our oceans will also contain more plastic than fish if we do not act now.
Asia accounts for much of the plastic in the oceans
In Asia, we find as many as eight of the 10 rivers that carry them 90 percent of the world's plastic waste. All of these rivers carry the plastic out into the world's oceans, which in 2014 held about 269 tons of plastic, according to a research study.
The EU has an aid policy that gives more and more space to climate issues, which is good. According to EU aid policy, we must protect future generations from environmental degradation and we must ensure that we live in harmony with nature. The EU is also doubling its climate budget for developing countries between 2014 - 2020.
This means that the EU has an opportunity to invest in the necessary waste management and recycling systems in developing countries. Plastic waste is a global problem that requires global solutions. Therefore, the EU also needs to initiate cooperation with other actors such as the China Development Bank or the World Bank to jointly invest more in waste management and plastic reduction in developing countries, especially in Asia.
The fish will feed us all, but as long as it lives on plastic, no one will be saturated, regardless of whether we live in Europe or Asia. Plastic must therefore be handled collectively, and here I believe that the EU can play an even greater role in the future.