China stops importing plastic waste, UK scrambles for strategies

China will no longer be importing plastic waste and garbage from other countries, forcing the UK to restructure its recycling.

Beginning this month, China will no longer be importing plastic waste and garbage from other countries. China normally receives millions of tons of recyclables from across the globe, and some countries such as the UK are now facing the challenge of how to build up their own recycling industries so that waste does not end up becoming a major environmental issue.

In 2016 alone, China imported 7.3 million tons of plastic waste from major countries such as the UK, the United States, and Japan. 56 percent of the world’s plastic waste was taken in by China in 2012, which totaled almost 9 million tons.

In a press release from Greenpeace East Asia, plastics campaigner Liu Hua said, “This regulation will send shockwaves around the world, and force many countries to tackle the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude we’ve developed towards waste.”

“The world cannot continue with the current wasteful consumption model based on infinite growth in a finite world,” said Hua. “Rather than find new places to export waste, governments and the private sector must find ways to simply reduce the amount of waste we are creating.”

According to the BBC, Britain has been exporting up to 500,000 tons of plastic for recycling in China every year. Simon Ellin, chief executive of the UK Recycling Association, explained to the news outlet that there is currently no short-term plan in place to deal with the excess waste.

“It’s a huge blow for us…a game-changer for our industry,” Ellin told the BBC. “We’ve relied on China so long for our waste… 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. We simply don’t have the markets in the UK. It’s going to mean big changes in our industry.”

China announced its decision to ban the imports of 24 types of waste in July 2017, writing to the World Trade Organization that their country has become extremely polluted from the garbage. They reported that an investigation into the imports revealed that “large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials.”

Britain, for one, has responded to the ban by exporting more of its waste to other countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, who do not have nearly the capacity of China’s former waste disposal.

According to The Guardian, a representative from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the organization is “looking at ways to process more of our recycling at home as part of our resources and waste strategy.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer