A child of a Manila slum looking for recyclable materials to sell


© George Steinmetz / Contrasto

Every year, around 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced around the world and eight million tonnes of that are dispersed at sea.
Once in the water, this waste can be carried by currents in ocean vortices, forming enormous plastic islands, or it can drift to coasts and beaches. Plastic debris damages flora and fauna, and also has a strong impact on coastal areas. An example of this is Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The city is crossed by the Pasig River as it flows to the South China Sea. After World War II, the massive construction of infrastructures and strong population growth caused the waterway to become a veritable open-air landfill. This situation causes hardship for the population and adds more plastic and waste to the vast amounts already present at sea and on the coasts.
A number of studies have shown the Pasig River to be one of the most severely polluted in the entire world. Many ecologists have declared it biologically dead, meaning that it is no longer able to support life. It is not uncommon to find children, like the boy in this photo, searching among the piles of plastic and waste deposited on the shore for something to help their families: items that can be recycled by large companies or sold at rural markets for about 30 cents per kilogram.
When we look at what is happening in the Philippines, we should wonder whether there is something that we can do. In Italy, a single person produces half a tonne of plastic per year on average. If we all work together, we might be able to reduce this burden on future generations.

Lara Gloder