Where plastic trash goes now that China is not accepting plastic anymore? 中国不再接受的塑料垃圾去哪了?
At the start of 2018, China has imposed a ban on importing 24 types of materials, including recycled plastic. The country now refuses to buy any recycled plastic scrap that is not 99.5% pure. A standard too high to reach.
In the 1990s, along with its growth as a manufacturer country, China started importing recycled plastic for processing it in goods. For 25 years, USA, Europe, and Japan have exported about 106 million metric tons of plastic, which, in most cases, was of poor quality and impossible to recycle. This simply added to China’s mounting environmental problems.
Source: Reuters (图片来源：路透社)
However, after years of economic growth, 1.4 billion Chinese population is producing enough waste to supply internal recycling plant, and China decided to shut down its door to deal internally with its growing waste problem.
Where all this plastic is going then?
China ban has shocked the entire world. For years USA and Europe have completely relied on China. It was cheaper to send all the waste out of their countries rather than process it at home. And now that China ports are closed, both lack of infrastructures to process all that scrap.
Trash traders have started looking to other destinations for their orphaned waste, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. According to the analysis of Financial Times, in the first half of 2018, imports of plastic has increased by 56% in Indonesia, doubled in Vietnam, and quadrupled in Malaysia.
Source: Financial times 图片来源: 英国《金融时报》
According to September 2018 World Bank report, only 10 percent of the imported waste is regularly recycled in these South-Asia countries. The great majority is piled up in unauthorized dumps or illegally burned resulting in serious environmental and health problems.
Recently, South-Asia countries are imposing restrictive measures to clump down on waste import. This trash flow is completely out of their capacity and has created an unsustainable parallel scrap smuggling market that is killing people, plants, and animals. Vietnam stopped issuing plastic recycling import license in June 2018. Malaysia revoked the approved permits for plastic waste imports for three months effective on 23 July 2018 as a preventive measure. Both countries denounce a series of violations from the importers: fake import permits, mislabelling, and extremely low-quality standard of the imported waste.
Still, Asian countries plastic waste import only accounts for half a million — one-third less of what Europe once shipped to China. That is why some countries are turning to a cheaper option: landfilling.
A wake-up call?
China’s action is forcing the world to come up with new ideas and measures about waste-disposal.
As exporting to other countries is costly and landfilling is also financially and environmentally unsustainable, Europe is rethinking about the whole and sorting out new measures to deal with the entire precarious situation. The Plastics Strategy announced in January 2018 by the European Commission, aims to make all the plastic packaging recyclable by 2030 and to restrict and control the usage of single-use plastic. This strategy would spur necessary investments in domestic recycling facilities as well as call for innovation in plastic manufacturing to make all the products suitable to repurpose.
Besides the financial and environmental impact, China break-up is creating a huge cultural impact. For years we have been told that recycling was the right way. Nobody was feeling guilty to throw everything we did not need anymore away as long as it could be thrown in the correct recycling bin. But with waste piles up more and more, citizens need to be reeducated and need all of us to help sustaining a new circular economy that takes into consideration the final life of everything we buy or produce.