This interdisciplinary project focuses on the manufacturing of plastic, a global industry that exceeds more than 335 million tons in 2016. The slow degradation from macro plastics to micro plastic waste leads to terrestrial and atmospheric waste, yet at least ten percent if not more ends up in the world’s ocean. Because of the high concentration of industry in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, much of it ends up in the Global South.

Global waste is not equally distributed, as the Global South bears the brunt of plastic waste in its waterways. Rather than blame Global South consumers and industries, we must first consider the unequal waste flows that come from imported waste and from the industrial belts that produce consumer goods that circulate in the global market in the first place. Further, rather than focus on individual action, we must figure out solutions that begin by considering the sources of plastic in the ocean and waterway that come from large scale industrial production and waste.

Our project objective is to study the specific sources of plastic in Asian and Latin America by focusing on the Pacific Garbage patch. We focus on the Pacific Ocean in Chile working with a team of researchers and advocates there, as well as in Japan to consider the Pacific Garbage Patch from grounded locations within Asia and Latin America. Further, we focus on China and the Yangtze River where 1.5 million metric tons is dumped into the Yellow Sea because of industry. We will conduct field research and “follow the path of plastics in our waterways,” both by showing how plastic degrades in particular conditions, as well as document the environmental and social health impact of such plastic pollution.

by Macarena Gómez-Barris and Cisco Bradley