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I’m looking at a photo of Daiane Maria Da Silva, 23, who lives in Recife in Brazil, as she holds her young son in her arms. She looks up, smiling, but her words suggest that Daiane’s smile hides a rubbish situation.

Like many people living in poorer countries, Daiane doesn’t have regular waste collection from her home. To get rid of her rubbish, she is forced to burn it, discard it in waterways or live surrounded by it. Plastic bottles and packaging are a particular problem, as they release toxic pollutants and carbon emissions when burned, and block drains when they end up in waterways. This in turn causes flooding, and Daiane’s home often floods when the local river, the Tejipió, overflows. Dirty, discarded bottles float in the water, creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes and water-borne disease.

Daiane says: ‘When the river floods, everyone gets diarrhoea and sickness. Recently, I had to help my daughter who was vomiting. Almost everyone here has had dengue fever. I get very down but there is nothing I can do about it, because I don’t have anywhere else to go.’

No Time To Waste

Many of us will have had our eyes opened to the horrors of plastic waste in our oceans and on our beaches thanks to Blue Planet II. But the human cost of waste for people such as Daiane has largely been ignored. Tearfund’s new report entitled ‘No Time To Waste’, produced in collaboration with conservation charity Fauna and Flora International, waste charity Waste Aid and the Institute of Development Studies, seeks to redress this imbalance. The report – which has been endorsed by Sir David Attenborough – draws attention to the growing waste mountains in poorer countries that cause up to a million deaths a year. There’s an impact on climate change too: for some countries, open burning of waste is their single-largest source of carbon emissions.

As Christians we are called to love our neighbours like Daiane, to care for God’s creation and to speak out when we see injustice.

That’s why Tearfund’s new Rubbish Campaign calls on Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever to take urgent action to tackle this rubbish problem. They’re selling billions of products in single-use plastic packaging in poorer countries where they know full well that waste isn’t collected. Tearfund is working with partners in Daiane’s community and others across the world to help, but simply clearing away the rubbish isn’t a long-term solution. The plastic waste mountains are growing.

Daiane says: ‘What I see most are mineral water bottles, fizzy bottles, mostly Coca-Cola, the type of bottles that are not returnable. If I could send a message to the companies, it would be to tell them to stop throwing rubbish our way.’

Don’t Be Rubbish

Daiane’s message can reach these companies, if we all take action.

Many of us are customers of these huge global brands, perhaps without even realising. Even if you never drink Coke but you have sipped a Sprite, Innocent smoothie or a latte at Costa Coffee, then you have been a customer of Coca-Cola. You’ve handed over money to Nestlé if you’ve eaten KitKats, Smarties or Milkybars or drunk Nescafé coffee. PepsiCo owns Walkers crisps, Doritos, Tropicana and Quaker Oats. And if you’ve got Persil, Dove or Domestos products at home, or Ben and Jerry’s and Wall’s ice creams, or Marmite, then you’re a customer of Unilever.

These companies care what we think. And we can see that globally there’s a growing movement of people who are living differently and calling for change on issues such as waste and climate change. And we are seeing breakthrough after breakthrough. So let’s get to work: together, we can make these waste mountains move.

Sign the Rubbish Campaign today.

Clare Lyons