Pasig River Is the Worst Plastic-Emitting River in the World. Tullahan River Comes in Second Place

Southeast Asia is the guiltiest party in letting plastic from the rivers meet the oceans.

Three Philippine rivers have been named the worst plastic-emitting rivers in the world. According to a study conducted by the organization The Ocean Cleanup and published in Science Advances, Pasig River is the most polluted and polluting river in the world. Of all the rivers that emit plastic into the ocean, Pasig River is the most notorious, accounting for 6.4 percent of plastic entering oceans from rivers.

The study, which took place between 2017 and 2020, examined over 1,600 rivers around the world that contribute 80 percent of total plastic pollution in the ocean.

Tullahan River, another Metro Manila river, is the second-worst plastic-emitting river in the world, accounting for 1.3 percent. It’s tied with the Ulhas River in India and the Klang River in Malaysia. Closing the top 10 is, unfortunately, another Philippine river, the Meycauayan River in Bulacan, which accounts for 1.2 percent of plastic emitted from rivers to the ocean.

It’s important to note that Pasig, Tullahan, and Meycauayan Rivers are not the most polluted rivers in the world. Instead, they are the most polluting, or plastic emitting, rivers that carry the most amount of trash and plastic into the ocean.

The Philippines overall contributed the most amount of pollution from its rivers to the oceans at a rate of 3.3 kilograms of plastic per capita per year. Other top countries contributing riverine (from rivers) plastic emissions are India, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Brazil, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Thailand. As you can see, Asia is the worst riverine global emitter in the world, contributing over 81 percent of all ocean pollution coming from rivers. Asia’s polluting statistics are so disproportionate that the entire continent of Africa contributes only eight percent of plastic emissions. Europe contributed only 0.6 percent.


From the top 10 list of country’s emitting riverine pollution, it’s clear that Southeast Asia is the guiltiest party in letting plastic from the rivers meet the oceans. A number of factors are at play here: poor waste management systems, population density along rivers, and the economic performance of the nations that control these rivers.

Infographic: Where Rivers Emit the Most Plastic into Oceans | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Pasig River has posed as an environmental concern for years, and as damning as this data may seem, it’s important to note that there is a rehabilitation plan for Pasig River. After the government’s years of failed attempts of cleaning the river, only for it to return to its polluted state, San Miguel Corporation is leading the charge to rehabilitate both Pasig River and Tullahan River. The conglomerate has not only been removing 600 tons of plastic and waste from these rivers each day, it also plans to deepen the river to improve water flow and help address flooding. Ramon Ang, president and CEO of San Miguel, has called it the company’s most challenging—and most fulfilling—project to date.

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However, Pasig River is just one of the Philippine waterways polluting the ocean. The real challenge is not to just clean these rivers, but to improve waste management, cultural practices, and sustainable mentalities so Pasig River, and the Philippines’ thousands of other rivers, don’t contribute to ocean pollution at all.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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