China’s recent ban on plastic imports could create a massive trash disposal problem for the rest of the world — creating a massive pile-up of tons of plastic with nowhere to go.
For the last 26 years, China has been importing recycled scraps generated by wealthy Western countries like the United States and turning that trash into new products. But at the end of 2017, the nation officially banned the import of most plastics, leaving many countries scrambling to find alternative methods of managing their excess waste.
In fact, the new policy will displace 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030, according to a research recently published in Science Advances.
According to the study, the United States alone will be juggling an estimated 37 million metric tons of extra waste. Recycling programs may be forced to shut down, as there will be no place to send the products.
Western nations have relied on China to accept roughly 106 million metric tons — 45% of the world’s total — since the inception of its recycling program in 1992. It’s one of the few countries that could accommodate and process such a colossal amount of material.
But, citing environmental and health concerns, China has refused to continue being a dumping ground for the rest of the world. The ban on 32 low-value scrap categories like post-industrial plastics, insulated wires, and wood pellets officially went into effect on December 31, 2017.
Perhaps this is the wake-up call that the world needs. According to Earth Day, people around the world use one trillion single-use plastic bags, nearly 500 billion plastic bottles and more than half a million straws every single year, among countless other plastic products. Our best option may be to simply reduce or eliminate the colossal amount of plastics we use each day.