Plastic pollution has become a major global disaster and as a result of our increased awareness of the crisis, we strive to reduce, reuse and of course recycle. We check if our plastic can be recycled, we wash it, carefully dispose of it… and that’s it, we’ve done our bit for the planet. Or have we?
Have you ever wondered where these plastics are sent for recycling, now that China (the world’s largest plastic processor) has closed its doors? We all just assume that the recycling of our plastic is being taken care of, and in some cases it is, but the inconvenient truth is that mainly, it isn’t.
When it was apparent that China was closing for business, the big UK recycling companies sent their delegates to the Far East to establish new markets including India, Malaysia and Vietnam. These countries have little or no environmental legislation in place to deal with substandard plastic and anything rejected has simply ended up in rivers, burnt in the open or landfilled.
Whilst developing countries produce their own plastic waste, it’s nothing compared to the scale imported into their countries.
We are all amazed by how much plastic is in our seas and we assume it’s being dropped from ships or left behind from trips to the beach, and while of course this contributes to the problem, the bulk of the plastic is waste that has been exported to the East and then dumped in rivers.
The West has relied on China since recycling became popular, which in the case of the UK has only been about 30 years. For China, UK investment simply wasn’t worthwhile and many early UK pioneers failed as they couldn’t compete with China.
The major problem on the financial side is there are no laws to force manufacturers to use a minimum percentage of recycled polymer, and cheap oil means plastic is produced in millions of tonnes a year at plants like Inios in Grangemouth (owned by one of the UK’s richest businessmen, Sir Jim Ratcliffe), making it politically hazardous to challenge the oil industry.
Sir Ratcliffe produces a vast amount of plastic, yet unlike electrical equipment manufacturers, he has no responsibility to make sure it’s recycled. Why is that?
Our industry is lobbying government on plastic tax and in 2022 a 30% plastic tax comes in to force, but it’s simply a tax that will be passed on and will force manufacturers to use lower grades of polymer that cannot be recycled, effectively increasing the problem – not helping it.
We need any plastic produced in the UK or imported into the UK and Europe to be made from 50% recycled polymer and reduce polymer types to only 10 or less with no cross polymers. This would within 5 years create a strong industry in the UK where we are dealing with our own waste ourselves.
We need to stop dumping our problem on another country. We can’t continue to expose those living in developing countries to toxic fumes from the burning of plastic waste.
What can you do to help?
Ask your council where your plastic goes and ask them to prove it from door to door and the final destination. If they can’t or won’t answer you, keep on asking.
Think about how you shop and reduce your plastic waste. Leave the packaging in the shop or change shops – they’ll soon get the message.