Philippines contributes to over one-third of world's ocean plastic waste - study

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 10 2021 09:38 PM

7 of top 10 rivers contributing to global plastic problem in oceans are in PH 

Children gather garbage near the mouth of Pasig river that connects it to Manila Bay in Baseco Compound in Tondo, Manila on World Environment Day, June 5, 2021. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA — The Philippines has contributed to 36 percent of the plastic waste that ended up in the world's oceans, with the Pasig River identified as the top plastic pollution source, a study has revealed.

According to a peer-reviewed study published in the Science Advances journal, 466 rivers in the country alone are emitting 356,371 metric tons of "mismanaged plastic wastes" annually. 

It also said majority of the "largest emitting rivers" globally are located in Asia, contributing 81 percent, followed by Africa (8 percent), and South America (5.5 percent).

Seven of the 10 rivers that contributed plastic pollution in our world's oceans, meanwhile, are located in the Philippines, according to the study. 

The researchers identified 1,656 rivers around the globe as top pollutants in the oceans.

Most plastic wastes that found its way to the oceans came from smaller rivers, contrary to earlier studies which stated that it came from big and major rivers, analysis by Our World in Data said. 

The top 10 rivers that contributed to the plastic pollution are the following:  

  •  Pasig (Philippines) - 6.43 percent 
  •  Klang (Malaysia) - 1.33 percent 
  •  Ulhas (India) - 1.33 percent 
  •  Tullahan (Philippines) 1.33 percent 
  •  Meycauayan (Philippines) 1.23 percent 
  •  Pampanga (Philippines) - 0.95 percent 
  •  Libmanan (Philippines) 0.72 percent 
  •  Ganges (India) - 0.63 percent 
  •  Rio Grande de Mindanao (Philippines) - 0.54 percent 
  •  Agno (Philippines) - 0.47 percent

The Pasig River being classified as the ocean's top plastic emitter "paints a very different picture to earlier studies where it was Asia’s largest rivers – the Yangtze, Xi, and Huangpu rivers in China, and Ganges in India – that were dominant," the online publication added.


The latest findings are relevant, according to the authors, as previous studies based their results on "simpler models of waste generation" in various river basins. 

These studies considered the mismanaged waste in each basin, population density there, and "correlative models of plastic concentrations in surface rivers." 

The latest research, on the other hand, accounted the amount of plastic that each country generates, how plastic waste is managed, and factors or probability that show how such wastes reach the oceans.


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The study indicated that mismanaged plastic waste near a river or the coast have high chances of ending up in the world's oceans. 

Those "far upstream" in a basin, meanwhile, have lower chances. 

For example, Jakarta and Manila have small, polluted rivers but contribute more plastic pollution compared to the Rhine or Seine rivers in Europe because they are upstream. 

"By considering these parameters, relatively small yet polluted river basins contribute proportionally more compared to large river basins with equal amounts of [plastic waste] generation within the river basins," the authors wrote. 

"This higher-resolution data shows that these factors that affect the probability of plastics not only reaching the river but then also reaching the ocean play a much more important role than the size of the river basin itself. This means many smaller rivers play a bigger role than we thought," Our World in Data analyzed. 


The Climate Change Commission described the findings as an "extreme concern" in terms of how plastic wastes are being managed in the Philippines. 

It called on the public to make "urgent efforts" in making sure that measures in tackling the country's plastic crisis. 

The agency strongly urges the public to use alternatives and adopt workable community-based solutions to shift away from the single-use, throwaway culture that currently dominates our market. 

"The agency strongly urges the public to use alternatives and adopt workable community-based solutions to shift away from the single-use, throwaway culture that currently dominates our market," their statement read. 

"The study suggested to have a targeted approach to drastically reduce the world’s river plastic emissions." 

The global plastic problem is compounded as the world reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the demand for plastic products also rose. 

The health crisis was also a headwind in global plastic recycling efforts, a report showed.

Demand for plastic gloves, face shield as well as takeaway food packaging, among others, has intensified while syringes are also now in demand due to the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout on top of the usual plastic wastes consumed on a day to day basis.


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