To The Economist
Europe and America have been shipping their collected plastic waste en masse to Asia and wrongly assuming that it is recycled there. Nothing could be further from the truth: it is dumped.
After China halted imports of Western plastic waste in 2017, it seems that Malaysia is following – in 2020 Malaysia returned a total of 3,737 metric tonnes of unwanted waste to 13 countries, including 43 containers to France, 42 to the UK, 17 to the United States. As a consequence, plastic waste will go to underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia with even lower environmental standards. There is now a greater chance that these plastics will be dumped and litter the ocean.
In Europe, waste policy has a focus on households separating their waste. As a result, it is expected that much less plastic will disappear in an incinerator. However, these targets and the increase in the related taxes mean that the quality of the plastic waste is becoming increasingly poor.
In terms of carbon emissions, the benefit of plastic recycling compared with plastic incineration is very modest. It would take an average household 60 years of plastic separation to compensate for the carbon emissions of a single plane trip from Amsterdam to Los Angeles.
Burning plastic seems like a mortal sin. But it is better for the environment to set fire to low-grade plastics in efficient incinerators. Machines can use infrared techniques to extract plastic from the residual waste. Because machines take out the good types of plastic, the quality of the plastic to be recycled increases.
(Raymond Gradus, professor of public economics and administration, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)
My comment: We recycle plastics, imagining that we are doing a (little) bit to help the environment. In a thousand years it will prove to long distant descendants, who will dig the stuff up or still picking up detritus on beaches, that we were a truly mindless and undisciplined lot, unfit for the planet…. on the other hand, what are we supposed to do with all the packaging junk?