Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Nope – Plastic Waste is Here to Stay.
Recycle, recycle, recycle – this is what we are always told about plastic waste. But are we doing enough? Is it ok to put our plastics in the recycling bin and forget about them? Sadly, plastics don’t just disappear and despite our best efforts on a personal level, the plastics we’ve discarded irresponsibly as a country are coming back to haunt us.
What happens to plastic when we put it in the recycling?
When we put plastic in the recycling bin, some of it is recycled. However, many councils don’t have the resources they need to tackle our growing mountain of plastic waste. This means that some plastics go into landfill.
Lots of our plastic waste is also being sent abroad, where some of it can be recycled. Since China stopped buying plastic that is less than 99.5% pure, global waste exports have fallen by almost half. Now, other countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan are taking some of this waste instead. But much of it is not ending up where it should be.
What happens to plastic waste when we send it abroad?
Sending plastic waste abroad might seem like a viable solution. Some countries are keen to take plastic waste – at least, some people in those countries are, but often, those people aren’t operating legally. Dozens of recycling factories have opened in Malaysia to take in plastic waste from abroad, but lots of them don’t even have the correct operating licenses. One town in particular, Jenjarom, has made news due to the extortionate amount of plastic waste that is now piled up there – almost 19,000 tons! Many illegal recycling factories have opened, and lots are simply burying and burning plastics, leaving mountains of waste in their wake.
The issue of sending plastic waste abroad has recently been compounded as our plastic waste is being sent back. This started as early as 2013/14, where the Philippines sent tonnes of rubbish back to Canada because it was falsely labelled.
Now, 42 containers of plastic waste are being repatriated to the UK by Malaysia, in an apparent bid to put a stop to illegal waste exports. Sending plastic waste abroad to be recycled is beset with problems, and quite clearly isn’t the answer. There are too many loopholes, too little infrastructure, and too many opportunities for people to cheat the system. Disposing of our everyday plastic waste is becoming an underhand activity.
How long does it take for plastic to break down?
The crux of the matter is that plastic needs to be recycled, otherwise it’s going to damage our planet. It’s not going to break down on its own any time soon. Our approach of filling our own recycling bins then turning a blind eye simply isn’t enough and we need to be engaged, focused and driven if we are going to turn the plastic crisis around.
What can you do to help?
The most important thing to remember is to not be disheartened. The news is full of negativity but we all have the power to contribute to healthier oceans and a happier planet. It’s our responsibility to demand more from our government and continue waging war against plastics.
If you want to help, you can:
- Spread the word! Tell people about the issues with plastics and raise awareness. Our website has lots resources you can share, on our blog and under our projects section.
- Go plastic free. As consumers, the power lies with us. If enough people want to go plastic free then retailers will have to respond. There are now a number of plastic-free shops springing up across the UK, where people can take their own containers.
- Take a Tupperware to restaurants. Restaurant staff often won’t be allowed to fill containers for you in the kitchen due to food safety and hygiene standards. However, nothing is stopping you putting your own leftovers in a container at the table.
- Lobby the government to adopt the plastic bottle deposit scheme. Write to your MP, join protests, do whatever you can to make your voice heard and tell the government that these issues matter to you.
- Remember your recyclable bags. Always take bags with you when you go to the supermarket. Have some in your car, or in your handbag – it helps to make this behaviour a habit.
- Support the #BinForGreenSeas project. Our project is throwing marine life a lifeline by making people think about their actions and dispose of waste responsibly. When you donate, 100% of the money goes into the project and we’re run by a team of volunteers. Tell your friends about us too – the more people who know about and support us, the more good work we can do to save our seas.
Fazilette Khan, Trustee of GreenSeas Trust, says “Disposing of litter, especially plastics, in a responsible way, is the first step. But we also need to curb our consumption of single use plastics. Glass bottles are making a comeback. From a health point of view, glass is much safer and is totally recyclable too. This is why BinForGreenSeas works on many levels – the design is a beacon to attract attention, the graphics on it offer education, the QR code when scanned takes you to the website where useful information can be found.”