I live in a rural county in the state of Tennessee here in the United States. Every week or so, I take our recyclable materials such as plastic, cardboard, and paper to our local recycling center. It was recently announced that plastic will no longer be accepted by this same facility. Since then, I have had to truck my plastic recycling to other counties. I recently asked someone who works in local government why they stopped accepting plastic. He gave me his answer in one word:
Yup, China, but his answer was an oversimplification of a convoluted, complicated, and distressing situation.
Plastic, as we all know, is now as ubiquitous as the air we breathe and the water we drink. It, or some form of it, is exists in virtually any object that humans use on a daily basis. The computer I am typing these words on has plastic in it. I am wearing plastic house slippers right now. Machines made with plastic parts were used to manufacture and deliver the clothes you are wearing. The cars we drive have numerous plastic parts. We all have used bottled water, headphones, cell phones, shopping bags, diapers, pens, and so on and so forth . . .
Now here is the terrible part. Plastic is generally made of chemicals that microbes do not like to consume. As such, there are different estimates ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 years regarding how long it takes for most plastic to decompose and biodegrade. When I stand in the middle of a grocery store, I look at all of the plastic containers and packaging, and it deeply pains me to know that ALL of it could still be around for thousands of years to pollute our land and oceans.
According to Slate.com, scientists have done studies that project the lifespan of a plastic grocery bag to be 500 to 1,000 years. Since these bags have only been around for about half a century, it is difficult to pin down a specific number. Nonetheless, those projections are sobering indeed.
Let’s take this full circle shall we? This brings us to China.
Yup, China. Since 1988, China has processed plastic from 43 countries and roughly 90% of plastic exports from around the world. In November of 2017, China announced that it will no longer do this. This means that everyone else has to figure out how they are going to deal with the disposal and recycling of their own plastic. It has been projected that between now and 2030, 111 million metric tons of trash and plastic will have no place to be processed. (See Sources below.)
Yup. 111,000,000 metric tons.
I just want to cry.
My little recycling facility in my county is feeling the repercussions of China’s decision. Chances are that you are also feeling them in your neck of the woods.
I do not mean to be all “doom and gloom” about this, but seriously, THIS IS AN ENORMOUS PROBLEM!!!
What the hell are we going to do to get ourselves out of this mess we made?
Into the future, I will continue to post about this topic. I want to discuss actionable, attainable, and sustainable solutions, and I am open to ideas.
I will not shut up about this. Please take a moment to ponder what I have written. Let it all sink in.
The next time you stand in the middle of a grocery store, think about all of this and see for yourself how we are continually contributing to this problem.
Let’s start taking responsibility and do something about it.