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article imageA tsunami of plastic waste is about to be unleashed on the world

By Karen Graham     Jun 21, 2018 in World
The world will soon be dealing with a glut of plastic waste equivalent to 21 times the mass of the Great Pyramids at Giza, with no obvious strategy available for recycling it.
On January 1, 2018, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection's (MEP) new “National Sword” policy, which bans 24 types of solid waste, including various plastics and unsorted mixed papers, and sets a much tougher standard for contamination levels, went into effect. In July 2017, the MEP notified the World Trade Organization about the ban going into effect on December 31, 2017.
The world's waste exporting nations have had almost a year to come up with national plans to deal with the tons of waste they had been shipping to China. Since 1988, nearly half of the world's recyclable plastic has been shipped to China where it is recycled and made into more plastics.
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Science Advances
Waste management officials in the U.S. are already struggling to process the heavy volumes of paper and plastics that we previously had shipped to another country. A lot of it is piling up in landfills and it is so bad in Massachusetts and Oregon that restrictions against pouring recyclable material into landfills have been lifted.
Yet “Without bold new ideas and system-wide changes, even the relatively low current recycling rates will no longer be met,” said Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Georgia, and the co-author of a study published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.
First study to look at the consequences of plastics ban
The study is the first one to actually tally what the consequences of China’s trash ban will be. It also highlights the need for countries who previously had exported their trash to rethink how they dispose of it in the future. Make no mistake - Plastic waste is now a major environmental and public health problem.
These monsters are real enough. Plastic  when ingested  is likely to be toxic  on a generational sca...
These monsters are real enough. Plastic, when ingested, is likely to be toxic, on a generational scale
© Benjamin Von Wong
“You can screw up a lot of the global trade system just by stopping a few things — and the movement of trash is one of them,” says Daniel Hoornweg, associate professor of energy systems and nuclear science at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the research. “Plastic’s heavily embedded in our society.”
And as the Global News points out, the world is going to have to contend with approximately 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste by 2030. Basically, this leaves developed countries with only a very few choices.
They can landfill their plastic waste, which in itself is not a good idea, or they can invest in new domestic facilities to recycle that waste. One other option would be to ship all the waste to developing nations - actually a stupid idea simply because those nations don't have the infrastructure to handle the additional imports, and it leaves one to wonder what they would do with all that garbage.
Eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world's oceans annually  the "New Plastics ...
Eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world's oceans annually, the "New Plastics Economy" report said
, Hong Kong Cleanup/AFP
Lead study author Amy Brooks, an environmental engineering student at the University of Georgia says plastic waste is often in a crude condition once it reaches the recycle bin, and many times, it is mixed together with paper and glass products.
It takes a lot of time and energy to separate all these things, and countries like the U.S. really don't want to spend that kind of money. “It was cheaper to throw [the trash] onto a boat and send it abroad than deal with it here,” she says.
What does this mean for the rest of the world?
To answer this question, the research team accessed the United Nations Commodity Trade Database, which acts as a ledger for the international trade of everything - including plastic waste.
The team combed through data on every kind of plastic-type they could find, from the rigid PVC that makes piping to the thinner polyethylene that makes up plastic bags. They found that China had taken in over 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste since 1992.
Unnecessary death. Polyethylene / polythene plastic in form of wraps  bags  foils kills many thousan...
Unnecessary death. Polyethylene / polythene plastic in form of wraps, bags, foils kills many thousands of cows every year. In India alone.
Stan Dalone
In 2016 alone, China took in 7 million tons of trash - adding to the nearly 61 million tons that the country had produced. Based on the data, the research team estimated that because of the trash ban, 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be stranded by 2030.
What does this mean for the world? Well, it is obvious. We need to stop using disposable plastic bags and other products - period. To deal with the huge piles, landfills, and warehouses full of plastic waste - This is an opportunity for waste management companies to invest in new technologies, and they are already available, to clean up the mess.
Talking about what individuals can do, like not using plastic bags or drinking straws, Brooks says, "These are really simple things that you can try to do. And I know that people don’t really feel like they’re making a difference when they do that on their own [...] but when millions of people start doing that, it will absolutely make a difference.”
More about plastic waste, China, Recycling, Landfills, 111 million metric tons
 
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