Plastic Piles Up Around the World After China Refuses to Recycle It

January 17, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Inundated with more plastic than it can recycle, China says its done being the “world’s garbage dump,”  causing backups and chaos at recycling plants across Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia

Recycling is piling up at Rogue Waste System in southern Oregon. Employees say their only option for now is to send it to a landfill. Jes Burns/OPB/EarthFix

For the last 2o years, China recycled about half of the world’s plastics and paper products. While this helped supply its manufacturing boom, the country says it has had enough.

Last summer China announced it no longer wants to be “the world’s garbage dump.”

Mountain of plastic in China. Credit: Fred Dufour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a filing with the World Trade Organization the country listed 24 kinds of “recyclables” it would no longer accept in order to protect “human health and the environment,” starting Jan. 1, 2018.

According to the filing, China found “that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This has polluted China’s environment seriously.”

Included in the ban are plastic waste, scrap metal, unsorted waste paper and waste textiles.

In just under three weeks since the ban took effect, plastic is literally piling up around the world.

Recycling center backups have been reported in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany and several other European nations.

“My inventory is out of control,” Steve Frank, of Pioneer Recycling in Oregon, tells The New York Times.

China’s ban has caused “a major upset of the flow of global recyclables,” he said.

Now Frank says he’s hoping to export waste to countries like Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia — “anywhere we can” — but “they can’t make up the difference.”

The U.K. has been especially hard hit as it previously exported two-thirds of its plastic waste to China. Rather than selling its plastic products, one London recycling center is now paying to have them removed.

To avoid “mountains of plastic” many of Britain’s municipalities may have no choice but to incinerate or bury tons of it in landfills — both harmful to the environment.

In response, the British government is considering a tax on single-use plastic items, like cups, food trays, utensils, etc.

Prime Minister Theresa May pledged last week to eliminate avoidable plastic waste within 25 years and urged supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles where all the food is loose.

The European Union plans to propose a tax on plastic bags and packaging, citing the China ban and the health of the oceans as reasons.

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