Plastic Pollution still exists despite all the “Recyclables”
According to National Geographic, in 2018, 91% of the plastics produced are not recycled. Recyclable plastic is not a guarantee that the item will be recycled, contrary to popular belief.
There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether an item made out of recycled plastics can be sent to the recycling plant and be re-manufactured into a new product.
Even while landfills are frequently seen as the least expensive method of garbage disposal, this perspective is frequently limited. Although the initial cost of setting up a recycling system may be higher, a circular economy for plastics has the potential to save between US$4.5 billion to US$9.9 billion over the long term.
Currently, recycling plastic is far more costly than producing new plastic, so businesses are less likely to scour landfills for used materials. In many ways, this is due to the low cost of petroleum products, yet their low cost conceals a deeper cost to our economy and the environment.
Separating Plastics is Not Time-Cost Efficient Enough
Plastics are not all made equal. Turning over a clear plastic bottle that contains mayonnaise or laundry detergent will reveal a number “1” inside a triangular recycling symbol. This indicates that the container is made of a substance called PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Milk jugs and other opaque jugs receive a “2,” indicating that they are constructed of HDPE (high-density polyethylene). Plastics are sorted at materials recovery facilities, or MRFs, according to these numbers (which range from 1 to 7), which indicate how recyclable they are.
Here are some types of plastics you should know:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): Commonly used to create bottles and other storage units for condiments including jam, sauce, and ketchup.
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Used to create shampoo and gel bottles, as well as some juice and water bottles.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Most frequently, deli meats, bedding, plastic toys, and medications are wrapped in this.
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE): Most frequently discovered in bags for fresh vegetables, newspapers, bread, and some milk cartons.
- Polypropylene (PP): Used, among other things, for yoghurt and takeout.
- Polystyrene (PS): This material, sometimes known as styrofoam, is frequently used to manufacture trays, cups, plates, bowls, take-out containers, and more.
- Every other kind of plastic.
According to GreenPeace report published in 2020 on “Circular Claims Fall Flat”, the plastics with labels 3 to 7—many of which are combined with other types of materials, such a coffee cup made of paper with a plastic lining—are the primary cause of the issue. It is incredibly expensive and difficult to separate them. However, industrial firms label the majority of mixed plastics as recyclable, according to Greenpeace. However, recycling facilities find it difficult to reuse them and simply throw them away. All of this confounds consumers who are uncertain about what can be recycled and what cannot, and who are frequently misled to believe that a majority of their goods are recycled when in fact they aren’t.
The After-Effects of China’s Waste Import Ban
Before the embargo took effect, nations like the United States exported over 4,000 shipping containers of trash to China for processing each day. The majority of the contents are used paper, plastic, and other scrap materials. But since 2018, China said that it will no longer be importing “foreign waste” as part of a comprehensive anti-pollution effort. It has restricted the kind of materials it would accept and prohibited the importation of plastic and paper of all kinds. Due to China’s tougher regulations, cargoes of recycling that contain non-recyclable materials are therefore more likely to be deemed polluted.
After the prohibition, the majority of their shipments were diverted to Southeast Asian countries. But when the latter was overburdened, it made the decision to adopt China’s approach and restrict imports of trash. Indeed, many nations were not equipped to handle the enormous volumes of waste created by the rest of the world, some of which already had the necessary infrastructure. Exporting countries all across the world started to accumulate enormous amounts of garbage as more import markets stopped taking it.
China’s import ban had significant negative effects on nations that heavily relied on China to manage their waste, even though it is likely to have a positive long-term effect on Chinese environmental sustainability by increasing the chances of carbon footprint mitigation and plastic waste trade flow mitigation globally. The decision to outlaw the importation of any recyclable materials, including plastic garbage, had immediate, significant effects and created significant issues for the worldwide recycling sector.
Experts predicted that the prohibition would result in the displacement of more than 100 million metric tonnes of plastic waste by 2030 when it was first proposed. The decision of the Chinese government would also affect more than 676,000 metric tonnes of garbage, which are worth roughly $278 million USD.
On the bright side, with experts forecasting a revamp of waste disposal systems, Western countries would ultimately be compelled to discover their own way to manage the garbage they generate rather than depending on the assistance of third countries.
Don’t Stop Recycling: But we need to do more than that to reduce plastic waste
Let’s be honest, we are all guilty of using some form of plastic even though we try to act responsibly and be aware of our consuming habits. The truth is, plastic is cheap, and it is manufactured and produced everywhere in all shapes and forms. Sometimes, we were not aware of what exactly. Here are some of the few things you can start doing or continue to do to minimise our waste footprint:
Makeup items, personal hygiene products
Personal care items are a significant source of micro-plastics, which are discharged into the seas directly from our bathrooms. Opt for plastic-free alternatives. Look for products such as shampoo, deodorant, day and/ or night cream, cosmetics, and cleanser that don’t include plastic.
Say no to plastic packaging for clothings
Choosing a sustainable fashion brand. The fashion sector is responsible for 10% of world carbon emissions and 20% of global wastewater production. That surpasses the total number of foreign flights and maritime shipping put together.
Most of their plastic pollution comes from the packaging, fast fashion brands are guilty of this. Fast fashion belongs in the past. When feasible, consider sustainable clothing brands, vintage stores, and garment repairs.
Even when you are travelling…
Be extra conscious of your products when travelling.
It’s easy to relax and get lost in the moment – which is never a bad thing! However, unconscious small actions can contribute to plastic pollution, even if you did not actively choose to take part in it. Since Covid-19, we see a surge in one-time usage items in the hospitality industry, for hygiene and health concerns of course.
Try to limit your consumption of single-use plastics while on vacation. Refuse small plastic single-use bottles from hotels, bring your own reusable bottle, and use micro-plastic-free sunscreen that is reef friendly.
Less is more
Try living a zero-waste lifestyle and strive to be the best. Invest in sustainable, ocean-friendly products like reusable water bottles, meal wraps, and coffee mugs. Think about alternatives such as shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo razors, and reusable menstruation cups. These will enable you to conserve both cash and the environment. Shopping sustainability is to lessen your plastic waste and impact on the environment, choose food that doesn’t come in plastic packaging, carry a reusable bag, buy locally produced goods, and refill containers the next time you’re out shopping.