Small steps in a giant pond....
Ever since China announced significant changes to policies surrounding ‘imported waste’ the world has been frantically looking for alternative ways to overcome the dilemma, not to mention the growing alarm of the degree to which our oceans are filling with plastic materials.
Undoubtedly, there has been much ‘noise’ regarding the topics from the influential bodies that have the power to rectify this situation. However, when assessing some of the measures that have been identified to date, it would be arguable to conclude that the issue isn’t being treated with the seriousness that it demands.
Sanctions and tariffs have been introduced on some single-use plastics, such as straws, coffee cups and plastic bags, and while the reasoning is understandable, let’s not kid ourselves that this is going to solve our problems, or the wider issues involved.
Sure, reducing the use of single-use plastic is a start, but it’s most certainly not the answer. Especially when you consider that much of this waste is not readily-recyclable and should therefore actually be placed for ‘general-waste’ disposal anyway.
Rather than putting more pressure on mechanisms for alleviating the poorly sorted and mixed plastic waste streams, the focus from Government, NGOs, Defra and the Environment Agency has been searching for substitute channels to distribute these materials too – which those of a more cynical nature could debate is purely aimed at achieving recycling targets.
As such, there is no getting away from it - exported plastics are a large contributor to our ocean dilemma and that is only likely to exasperate with China’s new regulations.
Despite the efforts in the last 6-months, the reality is that exported waste has only reduced by 9,000 tonnes compared with this time last year according to research. This suggests a new-home has been located and while on the face of it that may seem appropriate for meeting targets, the likelihood is that we’re actually contributing more harmfully to the problem with our oceans.
Flooding countries that don’t have adequate capacity to reprocess low-grade mixed plastic is only likely to have one outcome, and that is probably going to see much of the material end its journey in landfill, rivers and eventually, oceans.
Now is the time to act and take a firmer stance.
No longer should we be concentrated on collecting difficult-to-recycle plastics. The only way we’re going to positively contribute to the escalating problems is by sorting waste in to separate polymers and formats to facilitate reprocessing back in to reusable pellets, and more importantly, on our home shores, wherever feasible.