The Global Recycling Crisis
The recycling industry is a global industry estimated to be worth over 300 billion Euros by 2023. However, a crisis took place in January 2018 after China announced its National Sword Policy, which banned the import of most plastics and other materials that had previously been processed at their recycling facilities. At the time, China was the largest market for recyclable waste, handling nearly half of the world’s recycling.
As a result, countries around the world scrambled to find new solutions for handling and disposing of their recyclable waste, especially in the United States and Europe, where recycling was most prevalent. Although some countries, such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, temporarily increased imports in order to compensate for China’s ban, they were eventually forced to also impose limits on their imports. Oftentimes, the solution was to put recyclable waste in landfills or incinerators, since properly disposing of the material was no longer profitable.
A Wake Up Call
However, the crisis was also a wake-up call to companies and consumers that there are more ways to prevent waste than just recycling. Some companies, such as PepsiCo, vowed to cut their use of virgin plastic, and other companies have transitioned to using biodegradable or more easily recyclable materials such as cardboard. A number of companies have also worked to produce materials that can act as alternatives to plastic. For example, Novamont, an Italian company, developed a material using starch, cellulose, and vegetable oils that is now being used to create biodegradable packaging, bags, and dining materials. Avantium, a Netherlands-based company, has partnered with companies such as The Coca-Cola Company to develop bottles made completely out of PEF, a recyclable material that decomposes quickly. The German AMSilk GmBH has created a synthetic material known as Biosteel that can be used to replace plastic synthetic fabric which has been used in a partnership with Adidas to create a prototype for a biodegradable shoe. These are all examples of sustainable alternatives to plastic that are still being developed.
Despite the public push for bans or fees to discourage the use of virgin plastic, only a few countries have established policies to address the issue. France, for example, introduced a plastic packaging tax. In an effort to promote the use of recycled plastic, the tax would increase the cost of non-recycled plastic products up to. The tax would also increase the cost of putting trash in landfills and phase out excess plastic products, such as straws. The European Union also approved a law in 2019 which would ban single-use plastic utensils and straws by 2021.
Consumers have been inspired to buy less altogether or purchase materials that last longer or are biodegradable rather than recyclable. Of course, you should continue to properly recycle your recyclable waste (one of the reasons that the recycling industry is so expensive to maintain is the large amount of contamination), but it is important to know that recycling waste does not guarantee that it will not eventually end up in a landfill or an incinerator, which is why biodegradable materials or longer-lasting products are a better solution for the planet. Here are a number of plastic alternatives for you to consider!
- Tableware made from avocado pits
- Packaging made from straw
- Stainless steel straws
- Bamboo toothbrushes
- Compostable plastic bags