The problem with plastic waste

One of the strengths of plastic – its durability – has also turned out to be one of its most significant downsides. In a world based on consumerism and replacement, products that last for a very long time are only going to pile up. Single-use plastics arguably pose the biggest challenge of all. So, what happens to all that plasticonce it has been discarded? Doesn’t it all get recycled already?

Not Necessarily. Human industry has created around 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste in the last 70 years. Of that, only about 9% has been recycled. The rest has either been incinerated (12%) or is in landfills or the natural environment (79%) – Greenpeace estimates that up to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic annually end up in our oceans.

If you’re wondering what happens to the plastic waste you dutifully separate for recycling, you might be surprised to know it’s probably better traveled than you are. For around a quarter of a century, before the implementation of “Operation National Sword” in 2018, China was the world’s primary importer of plastic waste. National Sword was effectively a ban on a range of foreign recyclable waste products, leaving countries worldwide scrabbling for new markets.

Most worldwide plastic waste now goes to countries including Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 2018, the United States exported the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers full of plastic waste. For better or worse, a lack of existing national infrastructure aimed at supporting plastics recycling means it is simply easier to export it.

A two-pronged approach to dealing with the issue seems not only sensible but essential. On the one hand, we need to improve and increase recycling facilities, and on the other, we need to reduce – drastically – our reliance on single-use plastic products.

Finally, waste-to-energy initiatives must play their part. They are a means of converting urban waste to energy, and so hit two birds with one stone. Clean Energy Enterprises’ own BT Advanced Gasificationtechnology offers a flexible approach to waste management that equals clean energy with virtually zero emissions. Contact ustoday to learn more.