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UK 'Faces Build-up of Plastic Waste' (bbc.com) 308

The UK's recycling industry says it doesn't know how to cope with a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. From a report: Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped. At the moment the UK cannot deal with much of that waste, says the UK Recycling Association. Its chief executive, Simon Ellin, told the BBC he had no idea how the problem would be solved in the short term. "It's a huge blow for us... a game-changer for our industry," he said. "We've relied on China so long for our waste... 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. "We simply don't have the markets in the UK. It's going to mean big changes in our industry." China has introduced the ban from this month on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries.
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UK 'Faces Build-up of Plastic Waste'

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  • by Mal-2 ( 675116 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @03:10PM (#55845127) Homepage Journal

    China now produces plenty of waste of their own, and they are struggling to handle their own volume of garbage. It's no surprise they would stop accepting anyone else's.

    There's always Africa, right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Time for plastic roadways! There's already a pilot project in the UK.

      • Time for plastic roadways! There's already a pilot project in the UK.

        Here in Arizona we have rubber freeways. No more ugly, flammable piles of old tires.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @04:30PM (#55845519)

      China now produces plenty of waste of their own, and they are struggling to handle their own volume of garbage.

      The only labor intensive part is the separating. I spent 4 months in China last year (2017), and the garbage sorting requirements are strict, with fines for failure to comply. It seemed like everyone was sorting properly, at least where I was living (Shanghai/Pudong).

      There's always Africa, right?

      Cheap labor is only part of the problem. You also need the industrial infrastructure to process and use the recycled plastic. A big advantage in China, is that the production of plastic is very close to the demand for it.

      It would have been nice if China had phased out their recycling more slowly, to give the rest of the world time to adapt.

      The real solution is not recycling, but reduction in the use of so much plastic crap in the first place. Many things I buy have more packaging than product.

      • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @04:50PM (#55845569)

        It would have been nice if China had phased out their recycling more slowly, to give the rest of the world time to adapt.

        Why? This way they can expect some concessions in exchange for phasing it out. If they'd just announced that they were going to phase things out over two years, the UK would have had time to adapt, and no real need to make nice with China in trade talks or whatever....

      • by Slashdot Junky ( 265039 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @05:06PM (#55845649)

        The western world has had plenty of time to adapt. The problem is our allowing money to dictate policy and price. We have been able ship our waste on to other people and their territories all along and keep consuming without paying the true price of said consumption. With virgin sources of plastic and other first-use resources being cheaper, we have not yet been forced by "free markets" to adapt. Landfills will be our only exploitable "natural resources" one day. Re-use, recycling, and reduction will be the only practical option for all but the wealthy in time if we're still here.

      • by hazardPPP ( 4914555 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @06:55PM (#55846093)

        The real solution is not recycling, but reduction in the use of so much plastic crap in the first place. Many things I buy have more packaging than product.

        This. Exactly this.

        People assume plastic is easily recyclable, because collecting e.g. plastic bottles for recycling is so ubiquitous. However, of the four "recyclables" we all think of when we think of our garbage (metal, paper, glass, plastic), plastic is the least recyclable. For example, the most common type of plastic bottles - PET bottles - hardly ever get recycled into new plastic bottles. They get turned into other, usually lower-grade products. So while we are reusing the PET material, we are not really "recycling" the PET bottles. We can truly recycle paper - make old paper into paper - as well as glass bottles - make new ones out of old ones - and aluminium cans - ditto. While we can make a glass bottle over and over again from the same pieces of glass, we cannot do this with plastic bottles - so most plastic bottles are made out of "virgin" plastic.

        Furthermore, you can't just throw different types of plastics together, melt 'em, and get something usable (like you can with many metals), because such plastic mixtures are structurally weak (due to the phase separation of the different plastics). This means that proper sorting is key to recycling plastic. Furthermore, this means that some "exotic" plastic compounds made for a particular application (i.e. those not super-common like PET or PE) will end up in the landfill (or floating in the ocean) despite someone conscientiously throwing it initially in the recycling bin. Plastic has low value and plastics that are not produced in extremely high quantities are not lucrative for recycling.

        We need to be aggressive about reducing the amount of plastic packaging used: we should go as far as banning it. A lot of plastic packaging is just simply unnecessary, a lot of other plastic packaging can be replaced with paper, metal, or glass packaging. In my book the worst offender is the transparent "product-shaped" type of packaging that allows you to see the product (but is actually totally useless, since you can't open it without destroying the package...so what's the point?). Most of those products can be placed inside a cardboard box. That can be opened and closed...the vendor can have one product on display (like is usually the case anyway), the rest can be in non-transparent cardboard boxes. This type of packaging needs to be banned everywhere, ASAP.

      • China has stopped taking the West's "recycling" because it was too contaminated for them to use and it went to their garbage stream. It wasn't just one day China said that they weren't going to take the plastics. It's been a long time of them having to say that the stuff being sent over wasn't being prepared properly. If we in the West would separate it properly then China would gladly take it. But to make the programs work we have to tell people to throw it all into one box and then invent mechanical separ

  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @03:11PM (#55845131)

    How about building recycling plants in your own country? Or is that too much to ask?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You're forgetting this is the UK we're talking about.
      We've forgotten how to do things for ourselves here, we're now just a nation of outsourcing and reselling other peoples crap. Oh and red tape, lots and lots of red tape.
        In fact, so much red tape that even if we wanted a new plastics recycling facility to replace outsourcing it to China, it would take several years for the bureaucrats just to come an agreement on a name for it.

      • At least we won't have to ask permission from the barmy Brussels bureaucrats, thanks to that nice Mr. Farage.

        He's always so well turned-out, isn't he?

        • by sa1lnr ( 669048 )

          I'm sure brexiteers will be more than happy to have waste recycling plants built near their homes.

      • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Monday January 01, 2018 @04:48PM (#55845565)

        "Oh and red tape, lots and lots of red tape.
            In fact, so much red tape that even if we wanted a new plastics recycling facility to replace outsourcing it to China, it would take several years for the bureaucrats just to come an agreement on a name for it."

        Not to mention that the red tape would end up as plastic waste as well.

      • You're forgetting this is the UK we're talking about.... .... red tape, lots and lots of red tape.

        It's not red tape anymore. It's green tape.

      • And even then it'd end up being called "Plasticky McPlasticface"...
    • I agree with the AC, the cost of recycling in a first world country is almost prohibitively expensive.

      China's wages have been among the lowest, and as a result were very cost effective. I believe they were also the least regulated.

      The U.K has a limited amount of land for building these projects, and it is likely that citizens or allied nations will be downwind and/or downstream of the facility, requiring expensive procedures to minimize the spread of toxic chemicals. Additionally, labor to work at these
      • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @04:03PM (#55845433)

        How much of the problem is wages, and how much is regulation (environmental impact studies, multitude of lawsuit by NIMBY "greens", how to store it, wash it, what to do with waste water, etc, etc)?

      • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @04:31PM (#55845523)

        I agree with the AC, the cost of recycling in a first world country is almost prohibitively expensive.

        The real problem is likely that the way we live our first-world lives is unsustainable, given we haven't been solving the waste problem so much as displacing it off to some third-world foreigners.

        That doesn't necessarily mean our quality of life has to drop... but at a minimum we probably need to rethink how product packaging is handled, instead of "okay, now how do we get rid of all this excess plastic and paper"?

        • That's the first of the three R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          Like the YumEarth organic, vegan, dye free, non-GMO, kosher pareve, gluten free candy and nut free sweets that are individually wrapped in so much plastic it even shocks a Republican!!

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Labour costs are too high for manual sorting like is widely used in China. As always, it'll need to be tech to the rescue. For example, modern plants can use processes like cryofreezing to make even foams brittle, crushing/grinding waste it into granules, separating by density, and optical sorting (spectral analysis) to assess colour, transparency, composition and quality.

    • What? Crazy talk.

      Makes way more sense to ship garbage half way around the world.

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Easiest, cheapest answer: landfills.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This isn't the first time that China has pulled a "bait and switch". First they underbid all competition, which is easy with an abundant cheap workforce and lenient environmental protection. You can't run a recycling plant without customers. Eventually the last recyclers in the west shut down, because all the recyclable trash and a lot that isn't recyclable goes to China. When the world relies on China, they crash the system by changing the rules. Remember the rare earths fiasco? Same thing. Rare earths don

    • Or they could burn it to generate electricity instead of cutting down forests in North America and carting the wood across the Atlantic Yes, they really do that. Honest.

      Of course, it wouldn't count as "renewable".

      Maybe they could redefine "renewable"

      • by kenh ( 9056 )

        Or they could burn it to generate electricity instead of cutting down forests in North America and carting the wood across the Atlantic Yes, they really do that. Honest.

        No, they really don't - they don't generate electricity in the UK by burning wood.

        If you insist they do, please provide the locations and capacity of these wood-fired electricity generating plants.

        • Drax, Yorkshire. It used to be a coal-buring hellmouth, and Greens were mighty proud when they converted the massive plant to wood pellets. Unfortunately, all the trees in Yorkshire were burned for firewoood centuries ago, so the fuel comes from pulpwood trees in the American South, brought in by a fleet of diesel-belching bulk cargo ships. Yessiree, the Greens are totally proud of this accomplishment.

    • How about building recycling plants in your own country? Or is that too much to ask?

      Sure they could build recycling plants...but from whom?

      If you import a bunch of plastic crap from China (like the UK and almost any Western country does), that means you're not making the plastic crap yourself. That means that once that plastic crap becomes garbage, you have no one who will buy that garbage once it is recycled into a raw material. Hence you ship it to China, which can use it to make more plastic crap. To send back to you.

      • by kenh ( 9056 )

        ...Or they could start manufacturing plastic crap at home, in the UK.

    • A large part of the problem is much plastic waste isn't recyclable. Another large part of the problem is the plastic that is recyclable, isn't practical to recycle, costing more to do so than you get out of sale of the recycled material. It'd be nice if we'd produce fewer throw-away things, or things that aren't durable, but that's also less profitable therefore it won't get off the ground in a capitalist world. The focus is always on sell, sell, sell and getting consumers to consume, consume, consume so th
  • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @03:12PM (#55845141) Homepage

    But plastic waste should be burned for energy. It's made of oil, and most plastics aren't really recycled. They're used to make other things, but there's no net savings of any kind. Burning them would solve the waste problem and extract useful energy.

    • Maybe, but as I understand it, plastics produce more toxic chemicals when burned than petroleum.
      • Plastic needs to be mixed with fuel. so it burns hot enough. It's a solved problem, but 'greenies'.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I assume you don't know that plastic is more valuable than steel. Still want to burn it?

    • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @05:24PM (#55845729)

      The first solution is to tax plastic packaging to make it significantly less attractive to use it for single-use applications. Once you artificially inflate that cost to reduce volume, you can likely burn a good part of it for energy, or subsidize recycling costs.

      The likes of Amazon need to be doing more to encourage sustainable packaging... which helps them lower their cost; it is asinine to ship shoplift-resistant packaging to the end user.

      • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @06:14PM (#55845913)

        The first solution is to tax plastic packaging to make it significantly less attractive to use it for single-use applications. Once you artificially inflate that cost to reduce volume, you can likely burn a good part of it for energy, or subsidize recycling costs.

        Right now we are artificially reducing costs by not including the externality of waste disposal (often just of the packaging itself) in the cost of the product. In some areas waste disposal costs are being added to products (engine oil, tires, auto batteries, electronics) already. If these costs are imposed based on the packaging used, more intelligent packaging choices are likely to be made.

      • I don't think of it as artificially inflating the cost. It's clear that the plastic industry and plastic consumers have externalized their costs on to everyone else.

    • Burning most plastics isn't energy-efficient, and also most plastics produce rather nasty toxic chemicals when you burn them. Burying them in a landfill like they used to would be less toxic overall than burning them.
  • Because that's how you get Autons.

  • mother of invention (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @03:44PM (#55845321)
    Put some money up for a national challenge to come up with a way to do something useful with the waste and start importing and processing it from Europe. Doesn't the UK already do this with Nuclear waste ?
  • The graph linked shows only China mismanaged over 5 Million tonnes of plastic waste.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/scienc... [bbc.com]

  • by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @04:52PM (#55845583)

    It's a problem in every developed part of the world, as is proper disposal of e-waste [smithsonianmag.com]. We simply can't keep this up.

    I am buying as little as possible of both. Choosing foods that have as little packaging as possible, bringing my own container to the butcher, baker, resisting upgrading or buying gadgets as much as possible and finding people who can actually use my old stuff.

  • Plastics are complex hydrocarbons. Seems like you should be able to crack and refine them. Then make more plastic, fuels, etc. it may be expensive to start but as the world switches to more and more renewable power the costs for cracking should come down. I suppose then that the big problem will be NIMBY issues
  • Brexiteers claim that things are going to be wonderful outside that EU, for the UK will negotiate terrific trade deals with everybody. Well, this should be good practice: strike a deal with China so that they will carry on keeping the trash generated by the UK. It will be a very easy deal, right?
    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      Screw China. Fill the channel tunnel up with it. That way it both gets rid of trash and keeps the illegal immigrants out.

  • by Templer421 ( 4988421 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @05:39PM (#55845777)

    If that doesn't work perhaps a large plastic Badger?

  • I would advise the British govt not to do anything. There's nothing like being up to one's neck in plastic shit to drive home the consequences of a total lack of giving a shit.

  • by kenh ( 9056 )

    This is an EASY problem to solve - simply build your own plastic recycling plant! It's a known science, and think how much better the planet will be when you don't have to ship your recycling half-way around the planet.

    If you start recycling plastic, you'll have the raw materials to create plastic trash in your own UK factories - a huge environmental win and a great job creator. You'll have new jobs building and then running the plastic recycling plant, and then when you realize you have a glut of raw mater

  • I remember my chemistry professor in college commenting on the stupidity of recycling plastic. We haul around this plastic and burn a lot of fuel doing it. As I recall the neighboring city was at the time proposing a waste burning power plant. Made sense to me. Burn the plastic so we're not just burning more oil to keep moving it around.

    I know the adage, any simple solution to a complex problem is often wrong. I'm trying to see the failure in this simple solution.

    I understand that these plastic burning

  • Astonishing! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Monday January 01, 2018 @11:57PM (#55847007)

    So oil companies, which are subsidized to the tune of billions of dollars per year, use their unfair market advantage to transport plastic (also made from oil) to Third World countries like China, where it is disposed of in ways that are at best questionable, at worst environmentally disastrous. In so doing, they sell more plastic and more transportation-related oil and gasoline. This is called "recycling", and corporate-owned First World governments allow the situation to continue unchallenged.

    People pointing out that transporting plastic to Third World countries is economically viable mainly due to these subsidies are dismissed as "tree-huggers", "eco-warriors" and "Global Warming alarmists".

    Petro-chemical companies have been externalizing the cost of manufacturing, distributing and disposing of plastic for decades. They have also been lobbying with great success against even small subsidies for renewable energy generation. And thanks to sophisticated marketing campaigns similar to those that kept the debate about tobacco's health effects going for decades longer than necessary, uninformed and willfully-ignorant voters continue to allow them to get away with this.

    Ironically, it is one of those Third World countries, one with a frighteningly authoritarian government, that appears to be throwing a monkey wrench into the petro-chemical industry's smoothly-operating, oil-consuming pollution machine.

    I wish I thought this was good news, rather than just an indication that the existing system will simply start looking for different markets for First World garbage.

  • Stupid packaging (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <{moc.eeznerif.todhsals} {ta} {treb}> on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @01:05AM (#55847189) Homepage

    The problem is caused by the ridiculous packaging that most items come in...
    More than 90% of my weekly trash is made up of plastic packaging, usually the packaging is much larger than the item it contained and is designed to look pretty on the shelf.

    Packaging should be more sensible... Plain cardboard that can biodegrade or be easily recycled, glass bottles that can be cleaned and reused (not melted down and recycled as that's a hugely energy intensive process).

  • by uohcicds ( 472888 ) on Tuesday January 02, 2018 @05:09AM (#55847689) Homepage

    ...there were some supra-national bloc of countries that could pool their resources and have a joint approach to this, that the UK could be a part of and...

    DOH.

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