Graham Peebles: It is time for developed countries to seriously address issue of plastic waste recycling
1 July 2019. PenzaNews. Developed countries should take responsibility for environmental pollution with plastic waste and jointly develop effective steps to prevent environmental catastrophe, says Graham Peebles, Writer and Director of The Create Trust, in his article “Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis” published in a foreign Media.
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“Plastic pollution is everywhere, it litters beaches, clogs up oceans, chokes marine life, is ingested by seabirds that then starve to death, and has even been discovered embedded in Arctic ice. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink […]. Friends of the Earth report that, recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined,” he says.
“According to the United Nations Environmental Agency the world produces around 300 million tons of plastic each year, half of which is single-use items, food packaging mainly. Of this colossal total a mere 14% is collected for recycling, and only 9% actually gets recycled; 12% is incinerated releasing highly poisonous fumes. The rest – nearly 80% – ends up in landfill, or worse still, is illegally dumped or thrown into the oceans,” Graham Peebles notes, stressing that around 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans annually.
However, the full impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems is not yet apparent, he believes.
“Plastic recycling rates are appalling and considerably lower than other industrial materials; […] and plastic doesn’t disappear it just gets smaller and smaller, reducing over hundreds or even thousands of years into tiny micro-plastics and nano plastics,” the expert explains.
According to him, levels of plastic waste vary from country to country.
“Based on the 2018 report ‘Plastic Pollution’, daily per capita plastic waste in the United States, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Kuwait and Guyana is over ten times higher than across countries such as India, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh,” the author of the article says.
“Unsurprisingly, given its huge population of 1.3 billion and large manufacturing sector, China produces the greatest amount of plastic waste in the world, 59.8 million tons per year. However, at just 0.12 kilograms per capita per day, this equates to one of the lowest levels of per person plastic waste in the world. The US with the population of 327 million is responsible for 37.83 million tons per year, or 0.34 kilograms per person per day, three times that of China. America also produces ‘more than 275,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually.’ Germany produces 14.48 million tons per year, which at 0.46 kilograms per person per day is one of the highest levels in the world, but unlike the US, Germany has one of the highest recycling rates in the world – recycling an estimated 48% (US 9%) of its plastic waste,” Graham Peebles cites the report.
According to him, recycling has been regarded as the environmentally responsible way to deal with the colossal levels of rubbish humanity produces since the 1980s.
“Throughout developed countries collecting recyclable household waste has become widespread, but for decades the laborious job of actually recycling it has been exported, mainly to China. But on 31st December 2018, China announced it would no longer be the world’s garbage tip, stating, the Financial Times reports, “that large amounts of the waste were ‘dirty’ or ‘hazardous’ and thus a threat to the environment.” The “National Sword” policy introduced by the Chinese government has resulted in China and Hong Kong reducing plastic waste imports from G7 countries, from 60% in the first half of 2017, to less than 10% for the same period in 2018. Overall recovered plastic imports to China have fallen by 99%. China now only wants waste that does not cause pollution and meets certain cleanliness criteria,” the expert says.
It’s a massive change to the recycling model that was long overdue and has caused chaos on many countries in the west, with large amounts of waste that should have been recycled being burnt or stockpiled, he adds.
“Desperate to find an alternative distant dumping ground to China, huge amounts of plastic waste have been shipped to south-east Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, where the largest quantity has gone; according to Greenpeace, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia increased from 168,500 tons in 2016 to 456,000 tons in the first six months of 2018, most of the rubbish coming from UK, Germany, Spain, France Australia and US,” Graham Peebles explains.
According to him, the influx of such large quantities of toxic waste into these countries has led to contaminated water, crop death and respiratory illnesses.
“In May the Philippines forced Canada to take back “69 containers containing 1,500 tons of waste that had been exported in 2013 and 2014,” The Guardian reported. Other countries have responded in a similar way, with outrage: Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have all introduced legislation to stop contaminated waste arriving in their ports. The Malaysian environment minister, Yeo Bee Yin, said, ‘Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back [the waste] to the original countries.’ Containers of illegal rubbish from Spain have been returned and a further 3,000 tons of illegally imported plastic waste from US, UK, Australia, France and Canada has also been shipped back,” the author says.
From his point of view, the steps China has taken and the understandable anger of south-east Asian countries should serve as a wakeup call to western states, whose complacency and arrogance is fueling the environmental crisis.
“It is time that developed countries stopped exploiting poorer countries and accepted responsibility for their own plastic and other waste. Recycling needs to be recognized by western governments as an environmental necessity, a social imperative. As a business it is conditioned by business methods and motives; corruption and illegal practices abound, profit and costs become primary considerations and obstacles to environmental sanity; it is a great deal cheaper, for example, to incinerate plastic waste, or dump it in a forest or the oceans, than it is to recycle it, which is labor intensive,” the expert says.
In his opinion, developed nations, who are largely responsible for the environmental crisis, need to be cooperating with poorer countries, where most mismanagement of waste occurs, helping them to design efficient waste management systems and financially supporting such schemes.
“Certain fundamental steps need to be taken: drastically reduce plastic use; eliminate single-use plastics altogether; recycle more; invest in high-tech recycling facilities/waste management systems; ensure plastic products can be recycled; introduce national recycling standards as well as worldwide agreements, with countries that lead the way on recycling being widely consulted,” the expert believes.
In a positive move last year at the G7 summit, five countries – UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the EU – signed the Ocean Plastics Charter, he adds.
“They pledged ‘to increase plastic recycling by 50% and work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or recoverable plastics by 2030.’ The US and Japan did not sign. Plastic is the third largest manufacturing industry in America, producing 19.5% of the world’s plastic; US President Trump didn’t even attend the G7 climate change and environment talks,” the author of the article reminds.
In this regard, he believes that individuals also have a crucial part to play in dealing with plastic waste and making politicians enact the radical changes required.
“We can all reduce the amount of waste we produce; aim at zero waste, embrace simpler, environmentally responsible lifestyles, shop in Zero waste shops, where customers take their own containers and refill them from large dispensers. Western supermarket chains are responsible for colossal amounts of plastic waste and need to radically change the way their products are designed, packaged and sold,” Graham Peebles says.
“Plastic pollution is one aspect of the global environmental crisis, a crisis rooted in consumerism and a socio-economic system championed by developed nations, which promotes greed, selfishness and division. Radical systemic changes are required together with changes in lifestyle and values if the environmental vandalism is to come to an end and the planet is to be healed,” the expert concludes.