Have you heard? Malaysia is planning to ship Canadian waste back overseas due to our "irresponsible export of plastic waste."
It is joining the Philippines in putting the onus on Canadians to take care of our own recycling, and our own waste.
Poorly sorted, dirty & low-quality plastics are being sent overseas by Canadians only to be burnt, buried or dumped. For decades Canada has found it cheaper to flatten our plastic garbage into pallets and ship them to Asian countries where companies buy the material in the hopes of recycling and resale. However, more often than not, these nations don't have sophisticated waste-management systems and much of that Canadian plastic waste ends up getting dumped or burnt. We've been putting our waste out of sight and out of mind, but this may no longer be an option. China no longer wants our plastic bags, Rwanda no longer wants our discarded clothes. Worldwide, developed countries are being forced to deal with their own waste, but do we even have the systems in place?
When China announced that it would no longer accept plastic waste from foreign countries, many were left scrambling (and still are searching) for a solution. According to Statistics Canada, in 2014, Canadians diverted nine million tonnes of material from landfill to China. NINE MILLION TONNES. Apparently, until the ban took effect on Dec. 31st, 2017, over HALF of the world's recyclables were being sent to China every year.
So where does all this waste go now? My garbage and recycling still gets picked up regularly, and as far as I know, nothing has actually changed....so I've started researching. Turns out, in B.C. we run a province-wide model wherein plastics are processed in-province, and the producers pay. So that $0.15 you pay for a bag here in Victoria, that money goes towards RecycleBC - essentially, local industries are paying for the plastic & packaging that they are putting into the system. And this has had some good come with it - because companies don't want to pay for plastic, many are switching to paper packaging or compostable packaging (which comes with its own slew of issues, but it's a start at least).
Environment Minister Christine McKenna is pushing to make Canada completely plastic free by 2040, and the UK has proposed taxing plastic packaging. But at the end of the day, the responsibility for waste falls on the consumer. How much do you really know about where your recycling ends up, or what exactly you CAN and CAN'T recycle? How much effort do you put into zero-waste consumption?
I, like many Canadians I think, have often fallen back on the idea that as long as I do the initial work (throwing *anything* plastic in the trash, for instance, or recycling things that I wasn't *quite* sure could be recycled - chip bags, anyone?) someone, somewhere down the line will sort everything out and make sure that it all ends up where it should. The more I learn, the more I realize that just isn't true. A friend at Synergy Enterprises here in Victoria recently explained to me that there is no magic sorter at the end of the line - the buck stops with US. If we don't take the time to learn how to sort our recycling & waste properly, the entire lot gets dumped or burnt. Nobody is taking time to fix our mistakes. Nobody is taking responsibility for our poor recycling habits. One rogue piece of trash in a bundle of recycling will mean the entire lot gets tossed. I don't know about you, but this absolutely BLEW my mind. And then it made me really angry.
So what's the solution?
There is no easy answer, obviously, and believe it or not, I am not an economist; I am but a lowly fashion designer. But I have an idea of something that will help. And it's (kind of) simple. We need to CONSUME LESS. We need to EDUCATE ourselves on where our trash ends up, what is *actually* recyclable in our community, and how to best go about getting those recyclables into the right hands. We need to BE AWARE of our habits and patterns of consumption and learn to buy only what we need.
Now, I say *kind of* simple because all of these things require us to become more self-aware and to actually do some WERK. We've become accustomed to a society of convenience, and it will take some time to break those habits for individuals and companies alike. Governments will need to start implementing laws that allow for people to use their own take-away containers at restaurants, for example. (I know that seems like a silly example but THINK about the PILES of trash leftover from every take-out meal you've ever eaten...gross)
There are sites and sites and lists and lists of things that we as consumers can do to change our habits and make our lives less dependant on plastic & waste. Just Google it, I dare you. I'll leave a few of my favourite resources at the bottom of this blog, but I challenge you to do your own research, start asking where your waste is going, and start paying attention to your purchasing habits. I don't need to tell you the super-scary stats on the climate emergency, and I don't think I need to explain why getting a handle on our own waste is a direct contributor to this issue. It's on us as consumers to change our habits, and in turn, change the habits of industry. It's 100% possible, we just need to be 100% committed.
Now get out there and kick that plastic habit's ass!
The Story of Stuff - Youtube Video
Plastic China Movie
Zero Waste Home - Blog
Recycle B.C. (or just google your home province or state!)
Going Zero Waste - Blog
Trash Is for Tossers - Blog
Reduce, Reuse, Rethink - Series, CBC