China’s ban on importing waste affects us

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Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

Until recently, China accepted most of the world’s recyclables including some types of plastics, textiles, and papers. However, in July last year China announced to the World Trade Organization this policy would end December 31, 2017.

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

Until recently, China accepted most of the world’s recyclables including some types of plastics, textiles, and papers. However, in July last year China announced to the World Trade Organization this policy would end December 31, 2017.
To grasp the burden countries are facing now, China accepted 7.3 million metric tonnes of waste plastics alone from countries such as Britain, the EU, US and Japan.
Britain
Regarding recyclable papers in the UK, “around 1.1 million tonnes a year of mixed paper — newspaper, magazines and cardboard — is exported to China out of the
8 million tonnes of waste paper collected in Britain.” (http://dailym.ai/2moxHgz)
The EU, Japan, US
Plastics in other countries were exported, too, such as in “… the EU27, where 87% of the recycled plastic collected was exported directly, or indirectly (via Hong Kong), to China. Japan and the US also rely on China to buy their
recycled plastic. Last year, the US exported 1.42m tons of scrap plastics, worth an estimated US$495m to China.” (http://bit.ly/2yuUIGf)
Canada
Canadians were sending China waste too. Take Calgary, for instance: on January 8, 2018 CBC noted, “Calgary, which used to send all of its paper recyclables and half of its plastics to China, has amassed 5,000 tonnes of material over the last few months that it can’t find anyone else to take. It hasn’t yet decided what to do with it.” (http://bit.ly/2CZfMY9)
Quebec
We Quebeckers produce a whack of waste, where the same CBC article notes, “Sixty per cent of recyclables in Quebec used to go to China. No more.”
Karel Ménard, is the director of the environmental group Front commun québécois pour une gestion écologique des déchets. Back in November, before China’s ban, she said, “Mainly, what is happening now is there is less exportation to China. So the material remains in Quebec. And we store, and store and store the recyclables in sorting centres.”
Ménard noted that about 40% of Quebec’s recyclables are collected, sorted and “processed into new products” in-province.
Opportunity
Dany Michaud, CEO, RECYC-QUÉBEC and Maryse Vermette, president and CEO, Éco Entreprises Québec believe China’s decision represents opportunity for Quebec’s recycling industry. “In this difficult situation in today’s world markets, the best approach is to increase the quality of the sorting of the materials collected through curbside recycling,” say Michaud and Vermette. (http://bit.ly/2DhDMCJ)
Ontario plans
Circular economy
In early January, in an interview on CBC Radio, Ontario’s environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe spoke about a program in Ontario called “Beyond the Blue Box: Ontario’s Fresh Start on Waste Diversion and the Circular Economy.” (Listen to the pod cast: http://bit.ly/2mi3lLR; Read The Star’s report on Saxe: http://bit.ly/2DhN8ic)
What’s a “circular economy”? It’s “going around in circles with purpose”. In an idealistic world – means the recycling, re-using, re-purposing of all waste so that it “never” becomes landfill or waste. This means consumers must be wiser about what they purchase, how they wash stuff that goes into blue bins and understanding what belongs there in the first place. It means “cradle-to-grave” manufacturing where industries take 100% responsibility for products made – and packaging used. It’s a total rethink of consumerism.
Actions
Consumers must become even more vigilant about what choose to use, and what they pop into recycling bins. That’s because there’s a direct link from blue bins to China’s refusal to continue importing waste. CBC reported, “One major reason for the ban was that garbage was too often mixed in with the recyclable imports.”
So consumers need more education about what should go in our blue bins.
Let’s not get sidetracked by my use of the word “idealistic”. China gave peoples of the world a warning. It’s up to all of us on planet Earth to get with the (circular economy) program.

Katharine Fletcher is a
freelance writer, author and visual artist. Contact her at fletcherkatharine@gmail.com.