Plastic waste is ruining landscapes and filling oceans. But it’s also harming the world’s poorest people. Tearfund’s latest report, The Burning Question, reveals the devastating impact of the world’s biggest plastic polluters and urges multinational companies to reduce their rubbish.
Poor communities are becoming dumping grounds for tonnes of plastic waste. With few options to recycle or safely dispose of this rubbish, most of it ends up being burned on open fires. This produces toxic fumes that can cause sickness and even death.
Tearfund’s 2019 report No time to waste estimated that between 400,000 and 1 million people die each year in developing countries because of diseases related to plastic and other mismanaged waste. That’s up to one person every 30 seconds.
Life by a rubbish dump
Behind every statistic, there are real people. People such as Royda and her family who live in one of the poorest communities in Tanzania. Their lives and health are being harmed by plastic pollution every day, and they have no way out.
Royda is a single mother bringing up three young children in Dar es Salaam. Due to poverty, they have no choice but to live next to the city’s main rubbish dump.
Litter often overflows from the open dump into the surrounding community. And with no waste collection services in the area, Royda and her neighbours have no way of disposing of their own rubbish. It piles higher each day and attracts huge amounts of flies.
In the hot and dry weather the dump frequently catches fire, sending harmful fumes from burning plastic into Royda’s family home. It’s not safe for her or her children.
‘The dump is on fire every two days,’ says Royda. ‘Sometimes, the smoke is so dark and huge that you can’t see the person in front of you. I get breathing problems and eye problems too. The kids also get a lot of breathing problems: they cough a lot. When it is really bad, there is no way that you can deal with it without going to the hospital.’