Waste not, want not

At the beginning of this year, China implemented a new policy called “National Sword”, which puts restrictions on waste imports by banning certain materials and putting in place contamination restrictions on other materials. China has long been the world’s rubbish bin – in 2016, the rest of the world exported 28.6 million tonnes of paper and 8.5 million tonnes of plastic waste to the country, out of which the European Union (EU) alone accounted for roughly 8 million tonnes and 1.6 million tonnes respectively. Otherwise put, Europe was shipping 13% of its paper waste and 60% of its plastic waste across the world to be dealt with. So, while Europe was vaunting its high recycling rates, the reality is that a good chunk of its waste was being sent overseas.

Sending waste to another part of the world to be taken care of is a highly controversial practice. Firstly, it is not particularly sound from the environmental point of view – sending a used plastic bottle thousands of kilometres away to be recycled just adds to its total environmental footprint. Although the EU regulations require that exported plastic waste be recycled to the same standards as in the EU, there is not a lot of oversight to ensure foreign recyclers are complying. Moreover, waste exported to China and other countries is often sorted by informal workers operating under unsafe working conditions. Furthermore, it stands to reason – or at least in a perfect world it should – that we should only consume (and waste) as much as we can process.






Photo : cloud2013, flickr