When you throw that plastic water bottle into the recycle bin do you ask the question: where does all that garbage go? Hopefully, not into a landfill, the unfortunate destination of a huge amount of “recycled” trash. Hopefully, it gets sorted for serious recycling, but does that serious recycling occur in a plant in your country or does it get shipped “away”? Much more of the world’s “recycled” waste ends up making the long trip to China than you might think, in fact more than 50%.
No More Yang Laji, China says! And Bans the Import of Garbage!
China has a pollution problem and it is serious. Air pollution kills tens of thousands each year in cities across China and as the country’s population becomes more educated and internet savvy, pollution becomes a serious political issue with repercussions for the ruling class.
As a consequence, the country is cracking down on all types of pollution; by eliminating coal fired power plants; spending billions on renewable energy; powering up on electric cars and by imposing a ban on the importation of the world’s garbage. Last summer the Chinese announced their intention to halt the importation into China of yang laji or “foreign garbage”, specifically two dozen types of solid waste, including paper and plastics. A lot of plastic. (photo – The Economist, Reuters)
In fact, China annually imports over 7.3 million tons of plastic waste including bottles and containers, roughly 51% percent of the world’s exported plastic trash. It would seem that this is a good thing for China, but this action raises some very important concerns for both China and the world.
As dirty as imported waste is, China has relied on it as the raw stock to recycle into new products for both domestic and international consumption. Without this imported resource it will now need to procure “virgin” material from plastic sources in Asia. This increases the manufacture of plastics when the world needs just the opposite, a decrease in plastic production. (photo – icis.com)
Taking Out the Garbage!
This decision also creates a dilemma for the plastic waste exporting countries like the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Here’s the alarming truth, for years, many rich, developed countries have been exporting their garbage to less wealthy, developing countries rather than deal with their own trash in a responsible, sustainable manner.
The Guardian in a recent article revealed that British companies shipped more than 2.7million tons of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012 – that’s two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports and much of the rest goes to other Asian countries like Indonesia, that has its own immense, domestic plastic problems.
The hope is that faced with garbage backing up in their own back yards, developed countries will get serious and improve their domestic recycling infrastructure eliminating the need to ship waste abroad to countries that have much less ability to process it correctly.
However, when asked recently what impact China’s decision would have, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, said: “I don’t know what impact it will have. It is … something to which – I will be completely honest – I have not given it sufficient thought.” Duh! Not a reassuring answer, however since that statement we know that Great Britain has taken powerful measures to curb the domestic use of plastic, see our article: Great Britain leads the way in fighting Plastic Pollution.
Let’s hope that other world leaders will have thought about the problem and are prepared to offer some reasonable solutions.
Garbage Barge all dressed up, with nowhere to go!!
Remember the story that went viral way back in 1987 about the infamous barge of garbage that left New Jersey and had nowhere to go. Landfills around New York City were brimming over so someone had the bright idea of shipping trash to North Carolina. The Mobro 4000 left islip, New York carrying 6 million pounds of garbage but its voyage quickly got trashed. Five months and 6000 miles later the barge and its stinky cargo had been refused by numerous states; the Governor of Louisiana had threatened to call out the National Guard to block its unloading and warplanes from two foreign countries had chased it out of their waters. Finally the Mobro turned back toward New York and the garbage ended its bizarre odyssey in Brooklyn’s incinerators. This would be a very, funny story if it weren’t so serious.
The Gross Becomes Engrossing!
Garbage had never been so engrossing, making headlines around the world and entertaining the public for months. Now something very important happened. A month before the trash was burned Greenpeace hung a huge banner on the barge that said “Next Time – Try Recycling.” And the country did. After the Mobro story, the public started to demand action and recycling and composting shot up, nearly tripling in the decade following. (photo – Greenpeace)
Although the Mobro incident focused attention on the country’s garbage crisis some things have not changed, even with the new emphasize on recycling and composting. On the Mobro, 3000 tons of garbage had traveled 6000 miles, but as of 2014, New York City exports 23,000 tons of garbage every day, trucked over half a million miles to large landfills in many locations, some as far away as eastern Ohio. That’s the equivalent of seven Mobro barges everyday or nearly 2600 barges a year.
Down in the Dumps!
This is pretty depressing news but don’t let it get you down in the dumps, we need to do more and we can. At the grassroots level we can examine what our local communities are doing to recycle and make sure they are not “green-washing” but have a serious recycling program. If your local community does not have a program or it’s inadequate, ask questions and demand answers. This is where change begins.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean.net
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