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© 2020 Ruth Towell

  • Ruth Towell

Plastic is not fantastic.



Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to go on assignments with Tearfund, an international relief and development charity, to a couple of different countries, where I documented communities tackling the issue of plastic pollution. The most recent assignment was to the coastal city of Recife in Brazil.



Plastic pollution is a huge issue in this city; those in poorer areas have insufficient waste collection services and end up disposing of their rubbish by throwing it into the Tejipio river, a river which runs through the heart of their communities.


It doesn't take long to spot recognisable brands amongst the piles of plastic floating atop the River Tejipio. During my short trip, I spotted a vast array of Coca Cola products alongside brands from Unilever and PepsiCo. These brands are overloading the poor infrastructure of a number of developing countries; selling products without taking any responsibility for handling or recycling any of the plastic pollution they are creating. Tearfund are petitioning a number of major corporations, including those mentioned above, to take responsibility for the plastic pollution produced by their products. You can get involved by signing the petition here: tearfund.org/rubbish




Plastic pollution is not just an ecological issue, but it is social problem impacting many people. A few weeks before my trip, the communities along the River Tejipio faced a sudden flood - within a few hours the narrow streets became waterways. Locals, such as Andreia (pictured above), tried to save as many of their belongings as they could, but ended up losing important items which they would struggle to replace.


Many of the houses along the river have sewerage pipes that pour out into its water. The poor water quality contributed towards the development of health issues amongst many of those affected by the flooding. Andreia showed us a number of skin problems she developed since the recent floods.



Alongside petitioning the large corporations, Tearfund are working with partners to empower

local communities to take action and confront plastic pollution themselves. In Recife Tearfund

are partnered with Instituto Solidare.

This organisation was set up by the pastor of a local church, Pastor Jose (pictured on the left), when he had a revelation of the vast array of social issues those in the local community were facing.

Instituto Solidare have a range of programmes, but one specifically tackles plastic pollution called 'Clean River, Healthy City'. This project takes action in a range of ways including; educating locals about the benefits of recycling and reducing plastic use, petitioning to the local government around the issues they face, and offering the community the opportunity to get involved in a craft group which turns waste into products which they can sell.

I had the opportunity to visit this group and was particularly impressed by a wonderful blanket they created out of scraps of old material.








I met so many individuals who had been impacted by plastic pollution, but the overriding feeling I got from them was that of hope. Hope that as we all partner together across the world and take what action we can, plastic pollution and the issues that come with it will reduce, creating better lives for those facing issues like the communities living on the Tejipio River.





If you want to hear more about this project, I accompanied a Journalist on this trip - their article is now available to read on The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-rubbish-theology-can-improve-lives-l7h8ndg3x?fbclid=IwAR2UhBnaLq9lzs96dOsohsBngDnnTS_ZFqzx5RZgu8D875Vw7gSJ3r8AOOI