It looks as if China's decision to stop accepting a large proportion of the world's plastic and paper waste products is going to have a dramatic impact on the way we live.
In the wake of China's decision to stop importing nearly half of the world's scrap starting Jan. 1, particularly from the wealthiest nations, waste management operations across the country are struggling to process heavy volumes of paper and plastic that they can no longer unload on the Chinese. States such as Massachusetts and Oregon are lifting restrictions against pouring recyclable material into landfills to grant the operations some relief.
If Europe and the rest of the world struggle like the United States, according to the study by researchers at the University of Georgia released Wednesday, an estimated 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will pile up by 2030. Based on the amount of domestic scrap exported to China, the researchers estimate that the United States will have to contend with 37 million metric tons of extra waste, an amount it's not prepared to handle.
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"It will impact recycling programs across the country," said Ben Harvey, owner and president of E.L. Harvey & Sons Recycling Services in Westborough, Massachusetts. "If there's no place for this stuff to go, what's the sense of collecting it? We're going to look at the programs and say why are we collecting it, it's not a commodity anymore. It's a big thing. It's a scary thing."
Conservationists who reviewed the study and found it credible said such heavy loads of garbage worldwide would not only continue leaking into oceans but would also likely spill into neighborhoods.
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Studies say that between 8.3 billion and 9 billion metric tons have been produced since 1950. That's more than four Mount Everest's worth of trash. According to a separate study released last year, all but 2 billion metric tons of that plastic still sits on the Earth as garbage in landfills, recycled trash or pollution scattered in the environment, including deep oceans where a plastic island twice the size of Texas floats.
Plastic has been discovered in the bellies of dead whales and the decomposed stomachs of seabirds that mistook it for food. And yet, production of plastic continues almost without regulation ... In 1960, plastic accounted for just 1 percent of junk in municipal landfills across the world. As single-package containers led to an explosion in convenience and use, that number grew to 10 percent in 2005. If the trend continues, researchers say 13 billion metric tons of plastic will sit in dumps.
There's more at the link. Recommended reading.
The report refers mainly to plastic and paper waste, but there are other waste products that are far more worrying. In my travels throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, I've seen the impact of European waste dumping in that continent. Sometimes it's been deadly to the local people. What will happen when that sort of waste can't be dumped anywhere else? How will we dispose of it locally without impacting our residents? That's a good question.