Waste Audits: A First Step Toward Stopping Plastic Pollution

In Vietnam, rapidly urbanizing coastal cities account for the bulk of the country’s trash flow into the ocean.

We are currently testing solutions in coastal communities and will scale up what is working best to other communities in the next few years.

For example, in Ha Long City in North Vietnam, we are conducting waste audits with local groups to:

  • identify corporate polluters and hold them accountable
  • encourage residents and business owners to commit to reduce their waste by 25% in 2019; and
  • advocate for zero waste solutions for cities.
Knowing what kinds of trash dominate local waste streams will help Vietnamese partners work with city officials to create zero waste systems that will help stop plastic pollution.

June 2018 Waste Audit

1. In June 2018, we joined local partners and international campaigners to conduct waste audits of a residential district in Ha Long City.

Residential Trash

2. At the crack of dawn, marine campaigner Nicole Portley joined members of the local women's union to collect residential trash.
3. Over the course of five days, we separated the trash and recorded the weight and volume of different types of waste (e.g., plastic bottles, compost, etc.). This information can be used to develop local solutions for better waste management of specific types of trash.
4. We also recorded the brands producing the most trash. We share this data within the #BreakFreeFromPlastic coalition to pressure the biggest plastic polluters to stop making single-use plastics and develop more sustainable packaging alternatives.

September 2018 Waste Audit

1. The team, which included local partners and international campaigners besides our own marine campaigner Nicole Portley, sorted through nearly 800 pounds of trash.

Hotels, Restaurants, and Boat Tour Operators

2. Our analysis revealed that tourists produce twice as much trash on average as local residents.
3. Local business owners in the tourism industry told us that they believe their customers, particularly westerners, expect plastic conveniences.
4. Coca Cola, Pepsico, Nestle, and Unilever were among the Top 10 worst plastic-producing polluters in our audit.
5. The team visited a waste management facility to identify best practices that can be shared among project sites.
6. The global #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement, over 1,000 organizations strong, is championing zero waste—that is, reducing the amount of plastic waste going to landfills to zero through the use of 5R solutions: refusing plastic, reducing its use, reusing, recycling, and rotting, i.e., composting.

The Other Climate Connection: Fossil Fuels

The story of plastic is partly a story of the fossil fuel industry.

The raw materials for plastic come from fossil fuels, and many of the Big Oil and Gas companies also produce plastic, often in the same facilities.

ExxonMobil, for example, ranks as the world’s third-biggest plastic producer; 7 of the 10 largest plastic producers are oil and natural gas companies.

As long as these companies extract fossil fuels, there is a huge incentive to make plastic. If we don’t act, by 2050, 20% of all oil extracted across the world might go toward making plastic.

Overall, plastic production is projected to triple by 2050. About one-third of all plastic is currently escaping into the environment: roadsides, streams, lakes, and the ocean.

If this trend holds, then by 2050 the oceans will be receiving the equivalent of one truckload of plastic every 15 seconds, night and day.  


Photo: CC0 via Pixabay
Photo: NOAA


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