• Seaside Sustainability

The Plastic Problem on Easter Island

Written by: Nate McMullen

Seaside Sustainability’s actions against plastic waste, from utilizing blue technology to clean and study waterways, to advocating for local single-use plastic bans, to organizing coastal cleanups, are indisputably worthwhile projects. Thanks to projects like these, we are able to help manage pollution on our coast and in our waters. Unfortunately, not every country has the resources necessary to tackle plastic problems that we do, leaving them unable to manage a problem that is quickly becoming a crisis. Exhibit A: Easter Island. 


A small island nation in the south Pacific, Easter Island is probably best known for the anthropomorphic monoliths, called moai, that guard its coasts. Nowadays, new monuments are being built with much more sinister implications: mounds of plastic waste, washing onto the shore and blending into ocean ecosystems. A nearby “trash vortex”--a swirling mass of garbage floating in the South Pacific--incessantly feeds waste to the island. It is only recently that this vortex has inundated Easter Island with trash, but the change within the last 25 years has been “disastrous,” according to inhabitants. Macro- and microparticles of plastic overrun the shores, invade the beaches, and swim with the fishes, as it were. Worst of all, because Easter Island’s population is minute, much of the plastic is generated externally, particularly by fishing boats, and the small community is unable to keep up with incoming trash for which they are not responsible. Easter Island is just one coastal community relegated to the role of collateral victims in global industry’s wastefulness, and the problem shows no sign of abating.  


All of these factors form a bleak picture, highlighted by plastic pollution’s devastating effects on the people and animals of Easter Island. Marine creatures can mistake plastic for jellyfish, ingest them and choke, starve, or accumulate plastics in their systems. The plastic then finds itself into the island’s inhabitants who eat seafood. Many have tested positive for blood contaminated by plastics. There is no environmental justice when small communities suffer collateral damage from the actions of the industrial powers of the world. The wealthiest countries should not burden smaller, more vulnerable communities with their waste--we are all in the fight for a sustainable future together. This highlights the need of every nation to control its environmental impact not just for its own people, but for every corner of the Earth. 


A sustainable, just future will require international buy-in and drastic changes to our ways of life, but we have to start somewhere. Seaside Sustainability works to create safer, healthier oceans and waterways for our own coasts, for Easter Island, and for everyone across the globe.