Over three months have passed since China banned all secondary use, imported plastic from across the world. The speculation and immediate panic appears to have calmed down somewhat with short term measures put in place. Long term plans are yet to be finalised as the world seeks to find alternative solutions that have a minimal impact on the environment.
Recent research shows the UK has found alternate destinations to send just under one third of its waste plastic but the rest is staying on our shores with nowhere to go. Plastics exporter, Vanden Recycling who created this research estimates the UK lost the power to send 425,500 tonnes of plastic to China per year from the beginning of 2018. We will send approximately 121,800 tonnes of this out to other countries that are happy to still accept plastic, albeit on a much smaller scale than China. Unfortunately that still leaves us with a capacity gap of 350,700 tonnes with nowhere to go.
The UK and USA in fact have turned to landfilling and incineration as a short term solution. Earlier in the year, piles of household plastic were filling UK streets but this seems to have calmed down now with these measures in place. An environmentally friendly and resourceful solution needs to be created in order to start recycling the majority of waste plastic. Currently there is no talk of another country willing to take the amount of plastic China used to process so we may have to look closer to home. Landfilling and incineration means plastic is a wasted resource, no recycling means more plastic needs to be produced so we are looking at a vicious cycle of more plastic with no meaningful way of dealing with it when it is no longer needed.
The UK has made a start on trying to reduce everyday plastic use with many companies seeking alternatives to single-use plastics such as straws. The likes of McDonald’s no longer publically display straws, so customers have to ask if they would like one – small steps but it will hopefully change people’s mindsets. UK citizens are also being encouraged to reuse the same plastic bottle over a period of time rather than single-use as well. The likes of water company, Evian use sturdy plastic bottles which can easily be used over and over again, which is better for the environment and cheaper for the bottle owner.
Businesses should be turning to recycling equipment and segregation systems as well if they not only want to help improve the UK’s recycling system but help themselves in terms of cost, space, time and green credentials as well. It is a no brainer for businesses that produce steady to large streams of plastic to turn to this method. Recycling and general waste bins encourage lazy waste disposal at businesses with the high possibility that little plastic segregation occurs as well as the risk plastic overflows into the general waste stream. The other issue for businesses is the recent increase in landfill tax which went up at the beginning of April 2018. Waste management businesses are sure to increase their charges to cover this tax increase by the government.
It is simply a case of not only the UK but most countries changing their attitude to plastic recycling. Self-help is vital going forwards, now we do not have China to rely on.