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Published on January 30th, 2018 | by Cynthia Shahan

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UK Shipped 2.7 Million Tonnes Of Plastic Scrap To China Since 2012: What Now? Crisis Due To Chinese Ban

January 30th, 2018 by  


Everyone needs to more determinedly limit or do away with all plastic choices — especially those that go ridiculously far and cross an ocean to be recycled (polluting on the way). The UK is facing an immediate crisis of excess plastic waste. The Chinese said there is to be a halt in taking plastic trash from the UK, which has shipped 2.7 tonnes of plastic scrap for recycling in the past few years to China.

Along with the massive impact of the distance problem that I question, the Chinese point to severe complaints about the recycling itself. “The Chinese government announced in July that it planned to clamp down on imports of 24 categories of scrap from the beginning of 2018, blaming the contamination of imported recycling material with ‘large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes.’” In other words, people are throwing everything into the recycling and expecting someone else to sort it.

Unearthed.Greenpeace emphasizes the ticking clock and questions where will the questionable waste (and scraps) go now? “The government was warned in September that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic packaging intended for recycling could have nowhere to go if a Chinese crackdown on ‘foreign garbage’ comes into force, letters seen by Unearthed reveal. The recycling industry warned officials that 280,000 tonnes a year of plastic packaging waste would be affected by the ban. ‘No alternative markets are available for these quantities of waste,’ the documents note.”

Image via Unearthed.Greenpeace

It is time to invest in a glass bottle or stainless steel bottle and take your own cup to the coffee shop. The UK is not the only one — the staggering amount of complacency and denial there is around the world in regards to the use of plastic is awful. A paradigm shift is past due. Why has it fallen on deaf ears till now? “Labour MP Kerry McCarthy said: ‘The recycling industry clearly did its best to alert the government to this impending crisis, and the blame for failing to act upon those warnings lies squarely at the feet of Defra.’

“The changes could lead to a ‘paradigm shift in the way waste is managed,’ Defra officials wrote. But over a month later environment secretary Michael Gove told MPs: ‘I don’t know what impact it will have. It is… something to which—I will be completely honest—I have not given sufficient thought.’ Gove’s comments left Simon Ellin, head of the Recycling Association, ‘flabbergasted, incredibly disappointed, disillusioned,’ he told Unearthed.

“Recycling industry sources said the abrupt closure of the world’s biggest market for plastic scrap threatened to tip the already stretched recycling sector into ‘crisis’ and could see some plastics dumped in landfill or incinerated. Almost a quarter of the 790,000 tonnes of plastic scrap exported from the UK in 2016 was household plastic destined for China, an analysis by recycling charity Wrap has found.”

CleanTechnica earlier identified the enormity of the equation: “More than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced by humans since large-scale production began back in the 1950s, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

“Almost all of this plastic now resides as litter or microplastics pollution in the natural environment or buried in landfills. As of 2015, only 9% of the plastics made to date have been recycled, and only 12% incinerated — together accounting for around 2 billion metric tons of plastic — according to the new research. The other 6.3 billion metric tons of plastics that have been produced have become waste (~79%).”

Also, from another CleanTechnica story on disturbing statistics around plastics and our beautiful oceans: “Each year, at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean — which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to 2 per minute by 2030 and 4 per minute by 2050.”

Caribbean Plastics: Caroline Power Photography

Another question that arises is the shifting of a plastic mess from one land to another. And what exactly happens as plastic exports to Malaysia and Vietnam? Unearthed.Greenpeace reports: “It is unclear what happens to the waste that is sent to Asia,” said Piotr Barczak, waste policy advisor at the European Environmental Bureau. “EU law says that exported waste should be recycled in compliance with EU standards,” he added. “But lack of transparency and traceability means that it might instead be burned, buried or poorly recycled, with serious consequences for the environment and quality of recycled products in those countries.”

Caribbean Plastics: Caroline Power Photography

Related Stories:

Deep Sea Animals Now Found To Be Ingesting Microplastics Research Shows

New Photos Highlight Ocean Plastic Scourge, Bottle Deposit Plans Could Help

Photo credits: Caroline Power via Treehugger, “Plastics Hover Near Caribbean Island”


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About the Author

Cynthia Shahan is an organic farmer, licensed AP, anthropologist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.



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