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.

Asian Geographic - - CONTENTS - Text Rachel Kwek

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.

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