The United Kingdom will have to find another way to dispose of the mountains of plastic waste continuously building up in the island nation as China has stopped accepting imported household plastics meant for recycling.
According to the BBC, Britain sent up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling to China in 2014 and 2015, while it was 400,000 tonnes in 2016. Experts are now looking into alternatives such as landfills or incinerators as China will no longer receive “loathsome foreign waste” starting this month. Other Asian nations will reportedly take some of the plastic.
“As time goes on we could be facing a huge problem this year. Plastic is beginning to build up. We simply don’t know what’s going to happen,” Recycling Association’s Simon Ellin was quoted as saying by MailOnline.
“The short-term measures we are discussing now include going to storage and waste-to-energy incineration. But longer term – this is where government policy comes in to play – we need to stop producing the amount of low-grade mixed plastic.”
He further noted that it would pose a great challenge for waste management firms to store hundreds of thousands of tons of additional plastics. Dumping them into a landfill would likely be the “last resort”, according to Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee spokesperson Lee Marshall.
“If there are effects coming from the ban by China it may take a few weeks to filter back to the households. Hopefully, recyclers will be able to find alternative markets. We are hopeful the system can cope with any stockpiling,” Marshall said.
Environmental activists suggest that manufacturers should not only take responsibility for cutting plastic pollution but also shoulder part of the cost of the recycling.
Suez Recycling’s David Palmer-Jones said the government may explore recycling as a more viable option. He pointed out that of the 13 billion plastic bottles used in the UK annually, only 7.5 billion of them are recycled.
The rest are either incinerated, dumped to landfill or become litter. It can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, slowly breaking down into smaller microplastics, and can be consumed by marine animals and humans.
“The UK is a net exporter of many recyclable materials because there simply isn’t a large enough reprocessing market in the UK, or even within Europe, to sustain the volume of recyclable materials we produce,” said Palmer-Jones.