Plastic pollution is a very real danger for marine life, even on our base island Koh Ach Seh. Although we clean our beaches regularly, we still can’t keep up with the speed of trash washing up on our shore. Therefore, MCC is engaging with local communities and policy makers to change the way they process plastics and waste.
There was a time when we thought plastics were the solution to all our problems. Plastic is cheap to produce, and comes in many different shapes, forms and chemical compositions. From food packaging and medical products, to infrastructure and building materials, the practical uses are countless.
However, plastic use also has many downsides. First of all, fossil fuels and plasticisers are raw materials for plastic production. Recycling plastic is also hard because it does not decompose naturally.
Rather, much of the plastic waste either ends up in landfills and incinerators – which lead to water and air pollution – or as litter. Littered plastic can easily make its way to the sea and slowly breaks down to microplastics.
In marine environments, plastics are subject to a combination of weathering processes. These include UV radiation, chemical degradation, wave mechanics and grazing by marine life. Plastic slowly breaks down into smaller pieces. Microplastics refer to fragments of plastics that are smaller than 5mm in length.
Microplastics can be anywhere. So far, we have found them on the sea surface, the seafloor, in deep-sea sediments, Arctic sea ice, and even table salt. According to some estimations, plastic pollution may be killing as many as 100,000 marine mammals per year.
Plastic pollution also affects ourselves as part of the food web. Microplastics and plastics are sometimes mistaken for food by planktons, birds, fish and other marine animals. Therefore, the microplastics can move up the food chain and end up back in our food.
Microplastics can potentially affect hormone production in animals because they may serve as a vector for chemical additives and endocrine disruptors. Hormones regulate a lot of our bodily functions, such as digestion, movement, mood, sensory perception, sleep, reproduction and growth.
While more research is needed, we cannot omit the risk of microplastics affecting our hormones and general health.
Plastics in Asia
Every minute, the equivalent of 1 garbage truck of plastic waste enters the ocean. Among this, 82% of it happens in Asia.
There are a few reasons for this.
First of all,
Asia has one of the more extensive coastlines. Take the Mekong river as an example. It flows through China, Thailand, Cambodia and finally Vietnam before reaching the ocean. Mekong is one of the main rivers where plastic waste enters the marine environment.
There is also a general lack of waste treatment and recycling facilities, especially in non-urban areas. The situation becomes ever gloomier considering that 87% of Europe’s ‘recycling waste’ is exported to China.
By 2025, the ocean may contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish.
By 2050, the plastics may outweigh the fish.
Therefore, it is high time that we changed the consumer behaviours, improved waste collection and introduced new legislation in Asia.
What we do
At the moment, MCC mainly contributes to the problem through education. We inform the public about plastic waste via website, social media and in-person discussions.
We also hosted a mural project in Kep.
Using street art, we spread the awareness to as many people as possible. We showed them the dangers of plastic waste and single-use plastic, and hoped to spark a change in consumer behaviours.
Last but not least, we also run beach cleanups around Koh Ach Seh and organise large joint cleanups on the Kep beaches. If you want to join us, please feel free to contact us.