A Tuesday Conversation : Recycling is a waste

It was no surprise to have a rather larger than usual gathering in Badaboom on November 6th to partake in a discussion on recycling and it’s current state on the planet. To see the surprise on peoples face as Corinne exposed the truth about what we think we are doing and what we are really doing was an eye opener to say the least.

Here is the very short and concise version of what I thought I knew and what I learned. We recycle. We do our best to put our waste into a single type of bin provided to us. We believe that this is then collected and brought to a recycling centre where it is sorted cleaned and used to make something, anything, out of the materials we have diligently put into the recycling bin. In doing so we make a positive impact on the environment and we take something out of the manufacturing process, thus creating a cleaner better world for all.

This is what really happens. We put our plastics and cardboard and other materials into the bin. It’s collected. It neither sorted or cleaned but roughly speaking it’s dumped onto a slow boat to China. On it’s journey to China it falls into the sea. What does get to China is so dirty and badly sorted that in turn China dumps it into landfill or sells it to other Asian countries who do more or less the same thing.  The result is thousands of people illegally sorting through the trash of the western world, hoping to make a buck by sorting what is recyclable and selling it to the industries that will perform a chemical process on it to produced finally recycled plastic. These people eek out an existence below the poverty line, are subject to disease, infection, and toxic pollution coming from the fires burning the trash.

A movie was made called Plastic China. which tells the story of what happens to our waste.

PLASTIC CHINA’s main character Yi-Jie is an unschooled 11-year-old girl whose family works and lives in a typical plastic waste household-recycling workshop. As much as her life is poor and distorted, she’s a truly global child who learns the outside world from the waste workshop that her family lives in and works in – also known as the “United Nations of Plastic Wastes.”  She lives her happiness and sorrows amongst the waste,, as well. Small packs of discarded instant black powder tells her the bitter taste of “coffee”; the English children’s learning cards teach her words like “summer” and “father’s day”; and brokenBarbie dolls are her best friends to talk to.  This is her world.”

The film however was banned in China and due to the public outcry over this action, and election time, the main result of this was that China has informed the West, it’s not taking anymore of it’s rubbish. At least not for free like it did before. Any trash it does take, will have to be vetted by a Chinese state employee before it gets on the boat, which costs money. Now the transport too costs money. Okay but surely the West can afford this right? Wrong. The cost of vetting and transport is so high as to make it financially not viable. So what?

The result of that is that now the West has no market for what we are putting into bins, or at least the market is shrinking rapidly. Jobs in recycling will be lost. ( If we can call them recycling jobs). Recycling centres will close( if we can call them that) and the Western world is now faced with the dilemma of what to do and how to do it. The other great issue here, is that those of us who thought we have been recycling for years, have in fact been contribution to ocean pollution, river pollution, disease, exploitation and the death of thousands of people from the burning of the rubbish we have been pushing out of sight. That is a state of procrastination that will come back to haunt us very very quickly.

There is a wealth of information about the film itself, articles and interviews if you wish to know more, given in the link above.

So what can we do? It is surely up to us to sort out our own problems and trash and not expect that shipping it half way around the world solves the problem. Every journey starts with small steps. We can from now, reduce immediately our plastic consumption. Look for alternative packaging and for products and markets that are plastic free. We can use bags made from materials. We can cut out balloons, straws, bottles. We can lobby our towns and districts. It is true that during an after the Talk given by Corinne we were either in a state of disbelief, shock, and perhaps not just a little outrage too. The problems we face in our communities are urgent. The problems we face on the planet are urgent. It’s up to you. I don’t ask you to change the whole planet. Just make a change in your daily living. We will be posting a lot more on the issue of waste management and the lack of recycling.

We are very happy to have your comments and insights and we look forward to our next Everyday earth gathering with the House of the environment in Nice. We might not be changing it all right now, but we are doing our bit. Come join us, encourage us, teach us and support us.

Thanks for your time.