First-hand reflections on ocean plastics

Todd Becker, Vice President, Polyethylene Sales, Nova Chemicals (Calgary, Canada), recently visited the small fishing village of Muncar in Banyuwangi, Indonesia, and spent two days on-the-ground with Project STOP.

The organization partners with cities in Southeast Asia to build sustainable waste systems to end plastic leakage into the oceans. In this question and answer format, Becker shares first-hand reflections on the issue of ocean plastics.

Were you surprised by what you witnessed first-hand in Indonesia? 

Becker: Yes. Many of us in the industry are aware of the waste management issues in Asia and the impact on our oceans. We’ve seen the photos. We’ve watched the documentaries. We’ve participated in panel discussions and industry conferences.

I can tell you firsthand that none of that prepared me for being on the beaches in Indonesia and walking on and through the piles of trash. None of that prepared me for watching the local fishermen wade through garbage-filled waters to get to their boats.

It was an experience I will not forget.

Nova Chemicals ocean debris Becker on beach 430pix
 Nur Anik (left), Community Development and Behaviour Change, Project STOP; Todd Becker (center), Nova Chemicals; Jason Hale (right), Scaling Director, Project STOP.

What was the most profound part of your experience?

Becker: The most meaningful part was meeting the people. Although the duration of my trip was short, I tried to maximize the experience by meeting as many people as possible. I met community members, local store owners, fishermen and families to better understand the need for municipal waste services. With the help of an interpreter, I had tea with a local ‘mayor’ and his wife, along with other women who are engaged in leading community education.

As I walked through the community, I saw local shops selling individual packages of powdered milk, food and detergent. On one hand, it’s easy to understand the value that plastic packaging is bringing to this economy offering product safety and healthy options in affordable portion sizes. At the same time, without adequate municipal waste services, there aren’t ways to capture and recycle the plastic or other material packaging that still have value beyond one use.

Nova Chemicals ocean debris Becker New 2 in house 387 pix
Todd Becker, Nova Chemicals, visits with local dignitaries and community members in the small fishing village of Muncar in Banyuwangi, Indonesia.

I also saw firsthand that this is not just a plastics issue. It is a waste management issue. The problem is much bigger than plastics alone. The need is to find ways to support these communities, encourage their livelihoods and find ways to help growing populations use products they need while also living in harmony with our environment. The families I met are just like you and me. They want the best future for their children and grandchildren.  And, up to this point they have had ZERO access to any municipal waste services. They have had no other options but to dump or burn their waste. Much of it ends up in our oceans.


Next: Solutions and final thoughts

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