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A new era in plastics handling for the West

80% of plastic waste in the world’s oceans originates from rivers located in Asia. It would be all too easy to point the finger of blame at others – but the full picture is not quite that simple. For years, Europeans and Americans have been dumping much of their plastics waste on Asian countries to get it off their own backyards. But this era is now coming to an end.

A new era in plastics handling for the West

The Americans and Europeans consume more plastics per capita than the Asians. At the same time, according to the Ocean Conservancy environmental advocacy group, Indonesia, China, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam let out more plastics to oceans than the rest of the world’s countries combined. Waste typically ends up in local landfills, which are not appropriately protected from heavy rains, mud slides and floods – and this causes the waste to end up in rivers and ultimately in the oceans.

In 2016, Europeans sent 1.6 million tons of plastic waste to China alone, and yet much higher volumes of paper waste. At the end of 2017, this practice came to its end, as the Chinese officials set strict limits on imports of foreign waste. Unsurprisingly, an instant look for alternative shipping destinations in other Asian countries ensued, including e.g. Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and India. But one after another, governments in these countries are waking up to the challenge and limiting or stopping the issuance of waste import permits. For example, Thailand is now planning to ban plastic scrap imports by 2021.

We need to figure out ways to reduce plastic waste overall, and to develop ways to process and recycle our own waste efficiently.

Solving the waste challenge – together

If the alarming ocean waste crises has not been enough to result in large-scale organized action, the implications of the Asian plastics waste import ban are clear: we need to figure out ways to reduce plastic waste overall, and to develop ways to process and recycle our own waste efficiently. Possible measures are many, with regulation and effective enforcement in the driver’s seat. Restricting, reducing or banning the use of single-use plastics, promoting new packaging materials with low environmental footprint and improving waste collection and recycling, would all be suitable steps forward. The EU wants to lead by example by developing strict regulation related to single-use plastics.

Businesses are taking an active role, too. Many of our packaging-board customers are innovating renewable alternatives to single-use plastics. We help in this development by offering technologies that enable the optimal functionality of these biobased, renewable packages.

On an individual level, all this can seem very overwhelming. We have grown accustomed to certain level of convenience and easy consumerism, now we’re learning it comes with a high price on the environment and future generations. It could be argued that the most effective way to steer consumer choices and behavior is through regulation, by rewarding the right choices and sanctioning the unsustainable ones. Awareness is also important. We have created an easy check-list for you on how to recycle your household waste, you can find it here.

1950s

the start of the “plastics era”

9.2B

tons of plastic in the world

6.3B

tons of this plastic not recycled

40%

of this is single-use plastic

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