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Following broadcast of our last Cleanzine, which featured a Christmas tree made from used green plastic bottles, we started receiving reports that China's decision to stop importing plastic waste is already causing a build up at our recycling plants. In 2016, China processed almost two thirds of the UK's total waste and more than seven million tonnes of plastic waste in total - half of the world's recycled plastics. Its decision - which also includes mixed paper - will have a huge impact on our environment, unless we can massively increase the capacity of our local recycling industries.
Also over our break, Seas at Risk - an umbrella organisation of European environmental NGOs which promotes marine protection - and Eunomia, published a report on the scale of single-use plastic consumption in Europe. 'Single-use Plastics and the Marine Environment' represents the first attempt to create a picture of single-use plastic consumption in Europe based on consumption estimates for key items of waste: bottles, coffee cups and lids, drinking straws, takeaway packaging and cigarette butts. Its estimates indicate, for example, that the annual consumption of drinks bottles across the EU is around 46 billion.
The report also presents case studies of successful litter prevention initiatives and makes recommendations for how legislation can drive reductions in plastic consumption and so reduce marine plastic pollution and the need for landfill facilities. The recommendations include introducing reduction targets for a range of single-use plastic items (similar to those already in place for plastic bags), greater producer responsibility to cover both litter prevention and clean up, measures to mandate reusables at public events, and that data on the quantities of single-use plastic items on the market be made available to better facilitate reduction efforts. Eunomia was commissioned to support Seas at Risk in its efforts in petitioning European legislators to introduce ambitious policies that would help protect the marine environment.
As the report notes, if Europe were to drastically reduce its consumption of single-use plastic items - which are the most likely to be littered - then it would effectively eliminate a major source of marine pollution in all of its seas. And, in view of China's decision, it would also reduce what will soon become a recycling nightmare unless an alternative to shipping our waste half-way across the world can be adopted very quickly... it beggars belief that we were actually doing that in the first place... Happy New Year to you!
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4th January 2018