The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Plastic Pollution & Poverty

Reuters: A rubbish collector carries his baby as he walks amid plastic waste at a garbage dump site in Guiyang, Guizhou province June 3, 2008.

Today is Blog Action Day. Thousands of bloggers have united to discuss a single issue – poverty. The aim is to raise awareness and initiate action.

Honestly, I signed up to participate without giving the topic much thought, and now that I must come up with a blog post on the issue of poverty, I am nearly struck dumb. What can I possibly say about such enormous suffering?

So my contribution will simply be to show some of the plastic pollution all over the world, pollution which ends up in the world’s poorest regions because, like the plastic floating out in the North Pacific Gyre, these regions are to the Global Rich, out of sight and out of mind.

Reuters: A garbage collector transports plastic bags to recycle at a construction site in Xiangfan, Hubei province, March 16, 2008.

Reuters: Boys collects plastic materials as boats dock near a polluted coastline in Manila April 9, 2008.

Reuters: A woman washes plastic products on an algae-filled river in Tianjin municipality, September 13, 2007.

Reuters: A girl searches for plastic waste at a garbage dump site in Thailand’s Ayutthaya province, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangkok, May 1, 2007.

And of course, if you haven’t seen the Sky News video of what happens to much of the plastic “recycling” waste we ship to China, now’s a good time:

But these kinds of things aren’t just happening in developing countries. Here in the United States, PVC plants in Louisiana pump out toxic emissions daily to poor communities with some of the highest cancer rates.

I just finished reading Van Jones’s new book, Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, which urges a merging of the environmental and social justice movements. He argues that because the environmental movement for so long has overlooked poor and minority communities, focusing primarily on whales and polar bears, alliances have formed between the polluters and the poor.

What can we do to lift us all up out of this mess we have created for ourselves, both environmentally and economically? It’s a big question and Van Jones has some hopeful answers:

The best answer to our ecological crisis also responds to our socioeconomic crisis. The surest path to safe streets and peaceful communities is not more police and prisons, but ecologically sound economic development. And that same path can lead us to a new, green economy — one with the power to lift people out of poverty while respecting and repairing the environment.

Please read the book. And then let’s work to see that whoever is elected in November take these ideas to heart.

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14 years ago

The Earth has been facing immense pollution from our garbage and consumption. The latest deadly pollution is plastic bags that fill up the landfills. With plastic bags becoming a growing concern, cotton canvas bag has become the new way to help stop the pollution.
With plastic bag pollution being a rising concern, many shoppers need to start using reusable cotton canvas bags in order to stop the pollution.
Plastic bag pollution is very deadly and takes hundreds of years to break down. Even if the component is broken done, the deadly chemicals will go into the ground and water system. By reducing the usage of plastic bag, Earth can recuperate. That's why cotton bags should be used worldwide to help reduce the pollution.
It is our generation to stop the pollution and start using cotton canvas bags as the solution. With global warming going out of hand from gas exhaustion, we don't need any more problems especially plastic bags that are harmful when broken down naturally. These broken down elements cause sickness and destruction to the air, soil and water system.
Use cotton canvas bags starting today as a way to stop the plastic pollution that is becoming a major threat to the environment. Our lives are threatened ever more from the growing usage of plastic bags. It is time you bring a canvas bag to shopping the next time you go to a supermarket.

15 years ago

For Immediate Release November 27, 2008

People Living in Low Income Communities Likely to Face
Greater Pollution Releases

New study examines links between pollution and poverty in Great Lakes basin and Toronto

Toronto, ON – People living in poverty in the Great Lakes basin may be experiencing an increased burden of high air pollution from industrial facilities in their communities, says a new study released today by the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Environmental Defence through the groups PollutionWatch project.

The study, An Examination of Pollution and Poverty in the Great Lakes Basin, found 37 communities, known as census subdivisions, in the Great Lakes basin have high poverty rates at or above the national average (11.8%) and high releases of toxic air pollutants (over 100,000 kg) from industrial facilities. In Ontario, these communities include: Sault St. Marie, Espanola, Windsor, London, Hamilton and Toronto. In Quebec, these communities include: Montreal, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Trois Rivieres, Drummondville and Rouyn-Noranda. For a full list of communities, download the Great Lakes Summary Fact Sheet from the PollutionWatch web site (

This is one of the first studies in Canada to investigate the relationship between pollution and poverty in the Great Lakes basin. It shows that large amounts of pollution are still released in the Great Lakes basin, that some areas have higher pollution releases than others, and that some areas have a double challenge of high pollution releases and high poverty rates, said Fe de Leon, researcher at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. Future research and policy decisions to reduce pollution and poverty in the Great Lakes basin should take account of the findings of this study.

The PollutionWatch study mapped air release data of toxic pollutants and criteria air contaminants from the federal government’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (2005 data), and income data from Statistics Canada (2001 Statistics Canada Census) to explore whether areas in the Great Lakes basin with high air releases also have high percentages of people living in poverty. While some communities did have high levels of both air releases (i.e. air toxic pollutants and criteria air contaminants) and poverty, the study found that some areas with very high releases had low poverty, and some areas with very high poverty had low releases.

The study also examined the relationship between pollution and poverty at the neighbourhood level in the City of Toronto, providing detailed information of how the two may be related on a much smaller geographic scale. Similar to the Great Lakes basin as a whole, the releases of air pollutants from industrial facilities and poverty rates vary across Toronto, with some neighbourhoods facing a double challenge of high poverty rates and high air releases. In total, 17 neighbourhoods in Toronto had a poverty rate at or higher than the national average, and high releases (over 100,000 kg) of combined toxic air pollutants and criteria air contaminants.

Pollution and poverty collide in some communities, potentially adding to the health burden that many people living in poverty already face, said Jennifer Foulds, Communications Director, Environmental Defence. Clearly, the message to governments is they need to work hard to significantly reduce pollution and poverty, as the two often go hand-in-hand.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association and Environmental Defence recommend:

  1. further action to reduce and eliminate pollution in the Great Lakes basin through an increased focus on pollution prevention at all levels of society, through toxics use reduction strategies and Toronto’s Environmental Reporting, Disclosure and Innovation Program;
    formal recognition by all levels of government that pollution can affect people’s mental, physical and emotional health and that people living in poverty may be additionally affected by pollution;
  2. further research be conducted by all levels of government, academics, anti-poverty and environmental organizations to gain a better understanding as to how people’s mental, physical and emotional health is affected by living in poverty in communities with high pollution burdens. These findings should help inform the development of anti-poverty reduction plans; and,
  3. governments develop, in consultation with a diverse range of communities, including anti-poverty, environmental and health sectors, a clear environmental equity policy framework that considers how the connections between poverty and pollution can be integrated in concrete ways into environmental decision-making processes (e.g., environmental approvals, standards approvals, management of toxic substances, etc.) The process of facility siting and permit renewals should include the consideration of cumulative loadings from multiple sources in the air shed.

An Examination of Pollution and Poverty in the Great Lakes Basin, as well as separate Fact Sheets for the results from the whole Great Lakes basin and for Toronto, are available to download for free on the PollutionWatch web site.

PollutionWatch ( is a collaborative project of Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Fe de Leon, Canadian Environmental Law Association, (416) 960-2284 ext. 223; (416) 624-6758 (cell)
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)

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15 years ago

Thanks Beth. This post was powerful.

Rachael Levy
15 years ago

Thank you for sharing the pictures. I’m getting up from my computer right now and putting my canvas bags in my car so the next time I grocery shop I will have them in hand.

Crafty Green Poet
15 years ago

excellent post, photos like that really show the impact of plastic waste. I’ll link to this post from my Blog Action Day Post.

15 years ago

Beth, thank you for publishing those horrific photos of our consumer waste products – not our GNP but our CWP!! I believe that if our economy slowed down and went for quality – yes, things made from durable, non-throw-away materials, that lasted for 20 years or more, and that cost about 10 times more than what we pay for items made in underdeveloped countries, that people would value them more, think carefully about buying high quality and not think of only keeping items for a short time if they broke, but get them repaired and back to their pristine quality again (assuming the cost of repairs was less than replacement costs). I also believe that if we got away from consumerism (using and wasting our resources) we might value intangibles, such as education and expanding our minds and relationships rather than our waistlines and our need to take up physical space with our tangible possessions (the waste of “storage” units is an example of storing items that we truly do not use or need, and thereby deprive people of affordable house). That’s my 2-cents worth. Keep on blogging – you’re doing a great service getting the word out. Catniplady

15 years ago

Terrific post, Beth. I saw trash pickers in Honduras, and, as Allie puts it, it just so disturbing. Little children picking up filthy junk in a toxic, smelly dump- we just wouldn’t tolerate that here, yet it is happening every day all over the world. We need to get disgusted enough to take action. Your photos just may do that.

15 years ago

Thanks so much for your contribution! This is something that we would definitely like to deal with further at, which focuses on holistic environmentalism, and how going green is best for everyone. It is informative to consider one more way that environmentalism and human rights are linked. Please feel free to link to your blog from ours. We are always looking for more resources to post. The url is Our website is, but it is under construction.

15 years ago

I noticed that another eco blog had made a post about poverty today. It’s so awful that the people that can’t afford to be consumers basically end up living in waste, which is a good predictor of where we’ll all be in a few years if we don’t clean up our act. These pictures are great.

Green Bean
15 years ago

Oh! I so wanted to post about poverty today but it just didn’t happen. I’m glad you did. Thank you for bringing those images back on to our radar. It is too easy to forget.

15 years ago

Wow. That is just so disturbing to see. It puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?