Challenge to Shipping Plastic Waste to Developing Countries
About 400 million tons of plastic waste are created every year in the world, with the U.S. and Europe being the largest producers. Yet only eight per cent or so is set aside to be recycled. In recent years, the U.S. and Europe have been shipping much of their plastic recycling to developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia, where it often ends up in incinerators or landfills. Canada has been one of the exporters, but has also received waste from the U.S. Until recently, the U.S. shipped about half its plastic recycling to China and Hong Kong. However, in 2017, in what is seen as a backlash against wealthier countries, China began limiting imports of plastic waste, and countries like Malaysia and Indonesia soon followed suit.
As a result, a number of the world’s largest shipping lines no longer accept plastic waste shipments from North America or Europe for fear of being forced to dump the rogue cargo in the ocean or carry it back to where it came from. U.S. plastic exports have since fallen more than 70 per cent. At the same time, the country is dumping 23 per cent more recycled plastics into its own landfills. According to Anja Brandon, a plastics policy analyst at the Ocean Conservancy, because the U.S. has “taken advantage historically of this ability to export [its[ scrap overseas,” it hasn’t invested “in domestic source reduction or increased recycling infrastructure.”
One of the serious problems in recycling plastics is that for the big petrochemical companies, producing virgin plastic from fossil fuels is often more cost effective than utilizing recycled plastic which often has impurities in it and requires processing. This, along with the dumping practices, are examples of how private corporate interests flout their responsibilities and get in the way of developing a genuine circular economy.
(with files from Now This News, Global Initiative, Quartz)