Ruth Valerio

Ruth Valerio is an environmentalist, theologian, social activist and author. She is the Global Advocacy and Influencing Director at Tearfund.


Plastic pollution has caught the attention of Gove, Mordaunt and May, as well as the millions of viewers of the awe-inspiring Blue Planet 2. It’s heartbreaking to see albatrosses unwittingly feeding their young bits of plastic, but sadly this is one part of the wider issue of waste management and our rising throwaway culture. The impact on people in poverty is under reported. The UN Environment Programme’s Global Waste Management Outlook estimates that more than 2 billion people have no waste collection service and that even where waste is collected, it is often not managed properly.

Talking about waste and diarrhoea is not glamorous and isn’t as moving on TV as a baby albatross eating plastic.
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In low income countries, plastics blocking drains is a major cause of flooding. Diarrhoeal diseases are twice as common in communities without waste collection and fumes from burning waste cause an estimated 270,000 premature deaths a year. Microplastics entering the food chain pose serious but as yet unknown consequences for human health, both in the UK and in poor coastal communities around the world that rely on fish as the main source of protein.

Although 90% of the plastic waste in our oceans originates from just ten rivers within Africa and Asia, it’s a global issue that needs a shared response. Talking about waste and diarrhoea is not glamorous and isn’t as moving on TV as a baby albatross eating plastic. But both show we need to re-think our love affair with plastic.

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Introduction to this Under-reported series.

Summary guide to all under-reported articles in this series.