It may come as a shock, but a good proportion of the plastic bottles, packaging and other recyclables that we faithfully drop into our recycling bins each week have, until now, been shipped off to China. Why? Because it’s cheaper to process the plastic in China than in Australia. About half the world’s recycling has been going to China, with massive volumes coming from Western countries like the US, UK and Australia.
But China has decided it no longer wants to be the world’s garbage dump, and this has left the rest of the world with a huge problem.
In Australia, we lack the infrastructure to do our own processing of recyclables and costs are high. We’re facing a glut of recyclables that no one wants to buy and that have nowhere to go. In Victoria, household kerbside recycling is under threat, with one recycling plant already announcing that it will stop accepting recyclable waste from 22 regional councils. Some are trying to paint the situation as an opportunity for Australia’s recycling industry and are calling local government to invest in local recycling infrastructure. Others are hurriedly trying to find new markets in Asia so they can continue to ship waste offshore.
But isn’t it time we stopped and took a long hard look at ourselves, as consumers?
Yes, let’s look at better ways to use our recyclables, but why not focus on consuming less and reducing the waste we produce in the first place?
For too long, we’ve held on to a belief that the existence of the recycling industry makes it OK to use plastic. That putting a plastic bottle in the recycling bin somehow makes it alright. But the current situation has exposed an ugly truth. We’re simply producing far too much waste and we can’t rely on recycling to take care of it anymore. Our goal needs to be zero waste. It can be done, and it’s us, as consumers, that can make it happen.
There’s simple, everyday things we can all do to make a difference. Things like taking your own shopping bags, refusing plastic straws, reusing your containers, refusing to buy plastic toys, making your own juice instead of buying bottled juice, taking your own coffee cup, packing lunches in reusable containers, refusing to buy bottled water or fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic, refilling shampoo and cleaning products and eliminating food packaging by shopping at bulk food stores.
Every time you buy something in plastic, ask yourself, “Is there another way I can do this?”