Fri, Jun 22, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Plastic will pile up in wake of China’s ban on recycling imports, study says


Skagit County Solid Waste Division Manager Margo Gillaspy on March 12 shows recyclable plastic items that were deposited at the county’s transfer station in Mount Vernon, Washington.

Photo: AP / Skagit Valley Herald

China’s decision to stop accepting plastic waste from other nations is causing plastic to pile up around the globe, and wealthy countries must find a way to slow its accumulation, scientists said.

The scientists sought to quantify the effects 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 Dec. 31 last year, and the stockpiling trend is to worsen, they said.

The study, “The Chinese import ban and its impact on global plastic waste trade,” was published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

Wealthy nations such as the US, Japan and Germany have long sent their plastic recyclables to China, but the country does not want to be the world’s dumping ground for plastic anymore.

The study found that China has since 1992 taken more than 105 million tonnes of the material, 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.

They need to be more selective about what they choose 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, more plastic waste is likely to get incinerated or sent to landfills, Brooks said.

“This is a wake-up call. Historically, we’ve been depending on China to take in this recycled waste and now they are saying no,” she said. “That waste has to be managed and we have to manage it properly.”

Using UN data, the study found that China has dwarfed all other plastics importers, accounting for about 45 percent 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 nations that have seen an increase in plastic waste imports since China’s ban — such as Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia — are already looking to enforce bans of their own because they are quickly becoming overburdened, Brooks said.

The study says that plastic is more difficult to recycle than other materials, such as glass and aluminum, said Sherri Mason, chair of the department of geology and environmental sciences at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Many consumers try to recycle plastics that cannot be recycled, Mason said, adding that 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. “It doesn’t return to the planet the way other materials do.”

The US National Recycling Coalition last month said in a statement that it must “fundamentally shift how we speak to the public” and “how we collect and process” recyclables.

“We need to look at new uses for these materials,” coalition executive director Marjorie Griek said. “And how do you get manufacturers to design a product that is more easily recyclable?”

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