Asia’s longest river floods sea with plastic waste

China’s environment ministry plans to address the 1.5 million tonnes of plastic the Yangtze River carries out to sea each year.

The longest river in Asia has become one of the world’s most polluted, with tonnes of plastic waste threatening marine life in the East China Sea and beyond.

The Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world, with a length of more than 6,300km.

“According to research published in a recent environmental journal, the Yangtze and its tributaries carry 1.5 million tonnes of plastic into the sea each year – the most of any river in the world,” said Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Shanghai.

“It passes through some of China’s largest cities and the last one here in Shanghai, before it meets the East China Sea,” he added. 

In an effort to save marine life, environmental groups and campaigners in the country are organising volunteer clean-up operations, clearing out plastic along the mouth of the polluted river. 

“I’m here to protect the ocean,” said Niu Yijia, a student. “There’s a lot of trash on the beach.”

“We saw a video where a turtle inhaled a straw and it bled a lot when people tried to help get the straw out of its nose,” she told Al Jazeera. “Littering endangers marine species.”

China is one of the biggest plastic consumers in the world. 

In 2016, package delivery services used an estimated 14 billion plastic bags.

And with the rapid increase of food delivery options, it is estimated that 60m plastic containers are used each day – many of which cannot be recycled.

“I think we can look beyond the numbers when we are talking about marine waste to the public,” Zhu Linfang, campaigner at Rendu Ocean, a marine environmental protection group, said.

“It’s easier to bring them here to see with their own eyes and participate in activities like this,” she told Al Jazeera. “That’s a more direct way to make the public realise the severity of the problem.”

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment admits the country is facing a big challenge, and recently announced that a restructuring plan is in the works.

“The plan will create better conditions for fighting the uphill battles against pollution and improving ecological environment,” Li Ganjie, environment minister, said at a recent press briefing. 

“We’re obliged, responsible and have every reason to do a better job in the coming days.”