Plastic doesn’t go away so easily

Clearly, the developed world needs to do more about how we dispose of our trash. Just as obviously, the United States, often cited as the chief villain in that regard, is far from alone.

For years, much of the plastic waste disposed of by prosperous countries — even much of that officials claimed was being recycled — was being shipped to landfills in China. But in 2018, that nation’s officials said they were tired of being the world’s landfill. They banned new imports of plastic waste.

That sent disposal companies scrambling for alternative destinations. One of them was Malaysia. But this week, it was reported that country, too, has had enough.

Beginning late last year, Malaysian officials started shipping containers of plastic waste back to the countries of origin.

“If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on,” warned Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin.

Yeo said that since the crackdown began, 150 containers of plastic trash have been rejected. Interestingly enough, the United States was far from the biggest offender. Of the 150 containers, 43 went back to France, 42 were sent home to the United Kingdom and just 17 were returned to the United States (11 went to Canada, 10 to Spain and the remainder were returned to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Lithuania — and China).

Another 110 containers of plastic waste will be sent back to countries of origin later this year, Yeo told reporters. “We just want to give a message that Malaysia is not the dumping site of the world,” she added.

Expect more countries to follow that lead. For too long, consumers in the developed world have been lied to by public officials claiming that recycling programs are “green” solutions to waste. Until more honest, realistic approaches are adopted — by many countries, not just ours — it is little wonder that some less prosperous nations are rebelling.

This news also should reinforce in people’s minds the reality that plastic doesn’t go away easily. An amazing amount of new plastic is produced for us consumers every day, on top of the immeasurable amount alrady taking up space on our planet, and almost all of it will still be around long after all people alive today are dead.

The best solution is for each of us to use less plastic, find alternatives to it and reuse what we have as much as possible, to slow down the demand for new material.

Yet oil companies are banking on us to demand more, not less, plastic in the future. Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, is building a gigantic new plastics factory along the Ohio River near Pittsburgh.

It would be in all of our best interest to help them lose that bet.


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