The Reality of Recycling Plastic
It is no secret that only 9% of our global plastic waste is recycled. The rest end up in incinerators, landfills and our oceans. Knowing the identity of the plastic you use is key in making sure that more of what is used is successfully recycled.
While the RIC labelling system seeks to promote recycling by facilitating the separation of different types of plastic, the effectiveness of it is unclear. Awareness of the importance of knowing and categorising our plastic waste — as well as how to recycle — is still low amongst many Asians. I cringe each time I see people throw plastic straws, bags or food containers into the bin. Do we realise that our mindless consumption and insouciant disposal habits have already created massive environmental problems beyond our ability to cope? 91% of all the plastic waste we create is not recycled. China is the biggest importer of the world’s plastic waste, importing 45 percent of all plastic waste (106 million metric tons) since 1992.
In 2016 alone, half of all plastic waste meant for recycling was exported by 123 countries, and China imported two thirds of it (10,225 million metric tons) from 43 of them. It is hard not to question whether the plastic waste we make the effort to process and place in recycling bins really gets recycled. Much uncertainty over what we would do with our plastic waste has arisen with China’s decision to stop importing plastic waste since 2016 — which could displace as much as 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030, according to a study published in Science Advances. Nowhere is the need for action greater than in Asia, where chronic problems of overconsumption and inadequate waste management are severe. And we need to act now.