Plas­tic pil­ing up in wake of China ban

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

China’s de­ci­sion to stop ac­cept­ing plas­tic waste from other coun­tries is caus­ing plas­tic to pile up around the globe, and wealthy coun­tries must find a way to slow the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of one of the most ubiq­ui­tous ma­te­ri­als on the planet, a group of sci­en­tists says.

The sci­en­tists sought to quan­tify the im­pact of the Chi­nese im­port ban on the world­wide trade in plas­tic waste, and found that other na­tions might need to find a home for more than 110 mil­lion tonnes of plas­tic by 2030.

The ban went into ef­fect on De­cem­ber 31, 2017, and the stock­pil­ing trend is set to worsen, the sci­en­tists say.

Wealthy coun­tries such as the United States, Ja­pan and Ger­many have long sent their plas­tic re­cy­clables to China, but the coun­try doesn’t want to be the world’s dump­ing ground for plas­tic any more. The study found that China has taken more than 105m tonnes of the ma­te­rial since 1992, the equiv­a­lent of the weight of more than 300 Em­pire State Build­ings.

The change is forc­ing coun­tries to re­think how they deal with plas­tic waste.

Coun­tries needed to be more se­lec­tive about what they chose to re­cy­cle, and more fas­tid­i­ous about reusing plas­tics, said Amy Brooks, first au­thor on the study and a doc­toral stu­dent in en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia. In the mean­time, Brooks said, more plas­tic waste was likely to be in­cin­er­ated or sent to land­fills.

‘‘This is a wakeup call. His­tor­i­cally, we’ve been depend­ing on China to take in this re­cy­cled waste, and now they are say­ing no. That waste has to be man­aged, and we have to man­age it prop­erly.’’

The study was pub­lished yes­ter­day in the jour­nal Sci­ence Ad­vances. Us­ing United Na­tions data, it found that China has dwarfed all other plas­tics im­porters, ac­count­ing for about 45 per cent of the world’s plas­tic waste since 1992.

The ban is part of a larger crack­down on for­eign garbage, which is viewed as a threat to health and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Some coun­tries that have seen an in­crease in plas­tic waste im­ports since China’s ban – such as Thai­land, Viet­nam and Malaysia – were al­ready look­ing to en­force bans of their own be­cause they were quickly be­com­ing over­bur­dened, Brooks said.

The study il­lus­trated that plas­tic, with its wide ar­ray of uses and for­mu­la­tions, was more dif­fi­cult to re­cy­cle than other ma­te­ri­als, such as glass and alu­minium, said Sherri Mason, who was not in­volved in the study and is the chair of the geology and en­vi­ron­men­tal sciences de­part­ment at the State Univer­sity of New York at Fre­do­nia.

Many con­sumers at­tempted to re­cy­cle plas­tic prod­ucts that could not ul­ti­mately be re­cy­cled, Mason said. One so­lu­tion could be to sim­plify the va­ri­ety of plas­tics used to make prod­ucts.

‘‘We have to con­front this ma­te­rial and our use of it, be­cause so much of it is sin­gle-use dis­pos­able plas­tic, and this is a ma­te­rial that doesn’t go away,’’ Mason said.

The plas­tics im­port ban has at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the US re­cy­cling in­dus­try. The Na­tional Re­cy­cling Coali­tion said in May that it must ‘‘fun­da­men­tally shift how we speak to the public’’ and ‘‘how we col­lect and process’’ re­cy­clables. –AP

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