I recycle all my plastic, or do I?

“Recycled” plastic piling up at the Huntly Transfer Station

NZ Geographic has written an expose about the plastic problem. Quote.

[…] About an hour?s drive from the capital Kuala Lumpur, [Jenjarom] has been traditionally focused on agriculture, with palm oil plantations lining most roads.

But these days the factories, which recycle thousands of tonnes of waste from countries all around the world, are doing a roaring trade.

They have been multiplying at an alarming rate since China banned plastic imports at the start of the year.

Having previously taken around 50 percent of the world?s waste, the ban has meant many countries have scrambled to find a new market to export their unwanted plastics to.

Malaysia has become a popular alternative for the UK, Australia and New Zealand ? New Zealand?s exports there tripled in the first six months of this year.

Nearly 40 factories are now operating in the district of Kuala Langat, where Jenjarom is located.

Most are hidden in the Palm Oil plantations, which the factory owners rent because they are cheap and accessible to waterways.

That way they can easily dump the contaminated water they use to clean the filthy plastics before they process them.

In the past two months, several fish and prawn ponds operating nearby have lost all of their stock, and the owners suspect they were poisoned by the toxic wastewater coming from the factories.

The plastic that can?t be recycled ? either because it?s too contaminated or it?s just not economical to do so ? is either dumped, or burned.

That?s having a devastating effect on the environment, and the health of those living nearby. […]

In July, local authorities visited 38 factories in the Kuala Langat area but found only three had recycling permits.

Fourteen have been shut down but since then, Ms Pua says four have started operating again ? one just hours after it was closed.

She says most of the factories are Chinese owned and operated, with many simply moving their business to Malaysia when the ban came into effect.

Once they salvage what they can for recycling, they ship the plastic pellets they produce back to China to be made into new products.[…]

In July, the government suspended the importing licenses of 114 factories as it tried to verify which businesses were operating properly.

But the suspension is reported to have lapsed less than a month later.

Ms Chin Abdullah wants plastic imports banned all together.

She says Malaysia ? which has been named the eighth worst country in the world for plastic pollution ? is not even able to cope with its own waste.

But she notes that the responsibility does not just fall on Malaysia ? and that while New Zealand exporters are willing to sell their plastic overseas, there will always be buyers wanting it ? no matter the impact on people?s health or the environment.

Throughout last year New Zealand sent 6300 tonnes of plastic to Malaysia.

Nearly 6000 tonnes have already been exported there so far this year.

New Zealand recyclers who have plastic piles mounting in their yards say they have no choice but to ship it elsewhere.

Flies are buzzing around bales of waste at the Smart Environmental processing plant in Thames, where waste from 16 councils is waiting to be shipped overseas.

The plant?s manager, Layne Sefton, says since China?s ban took effect, the price that they can sell their plastic for has plummeted, and they are losing money exporting it ? but they have no choice.

Desperate to recoup costs from collecting and sorting the plastic, Mr Sefton says they will sell it to whoever they can ? and if they are approached by an overseas buyer they do not ask many questions about where it is going.

Tracing exactly where New Zealand?s plastic goes when it leaves our ports is incredibly difficult.

Recyclers and councils here typically sell the plastics to a broker, who then sells it to factories across Asia for processing.

Waste Management Ltd, one of the largest recyclers in the country, confirmed they sold plastic to Malaysia but did not have details of where it ended up.

Envirowaste, the other major New Zealand recycler, would not tell Insight anything about their exports. […] End of quote.

As many of us have maintained for years, recycling is a major con, just like the long-tailpipe issue with electric vehicles. [Cam on recycling in 2015]

We diligently sort our plastics into the various numbers, smugly put them into the recycling bin, have them collected from the gate and tuck ourselves into bed to sleep easily knowing that we are wonderful responsible citizens.

But are we?? What is the effective difference between burning the plastic here in the garden incinerator or shipping it to Malaysia to burn it over there?

The difference is that the neighbours complaining about the smell versus the neighbours thinking we are model recycling citizens.

Until there are non-polluting ways of properly recycling plastic or burning it in a properly designed power plant, the responsible thing to do is bury the stuff in a proper landfill.

So what if it takes 1000 years to break down?? Who cares? It is buried and not causing pollution by being burnt, it is not escaping into the waterways to kill the turtles and it is not being washed and causing the local prawn farmer in Malaysia to lose his livelihood.