It's recycling week, so an appropriate time to launch a series I shot at the #OurOcean2018 conference in response to the FALSE NARRATIVES we identified at the #BreakFreeFromPlastic Global Leadership Meeting.

"Narratives" that make us feel better about the plastic crisis. Solutions we genuinely believe in, circulated as sensationalised reactions or deeply ingrained in society, I was surprised at a few myself, so decided to debunk those of which are just FALSE.

Watch in full:

The short of it is China stopped accepting our low-grade plastics causing a global crisis resulting in recyclable materials ending up in landfills or SE Asian countries without proper waste management infrastructure (I visited these places, check out my "Highlights" for the footage).

This is horrible, but not surprising. Recycling hasn't been working. It is a feel-good cop-out to dissuade us from second-guessing our plastics consumption & having a closer look at the plastic production that got us into this mess.

Only 9% of US waste is reported as recycled. The lack of transparency in the global recycling market is insane. Exporters don't know the fate of the materials they ship or have info on the enviro or social performance of reprocessing facilities. Despite this, most countries still count exports towards recycling targets. Do you need to read that again??

Companies are making lightweight, multi-layered (like tetra packs and sachets!) packaging with myriad additives that make the resulting plastic waste impossible to recycle, and oftentimes toxic to process. . We need substantial redesign to ensure these materials are either reused or safely recycled. 

Since oil and natural gas prices don’t factor in the incredible social and environmental costs of extraction, virgin plastic outcompetes recycled plastic. We need policy mechanisms to tip the scales in recycled plastics’ favor. 

In order to send the message that we mean business about plastic reduction, we need corporate liability policies to hold companies accountable for the pollution they have created and the environmental and human health harm they cause. 

In the transition to less plastic in the marketplace, recycling should still play a role. However, any continued plastic recycling needs to meet higher environmental and social standards and should be handled domestically, to prevent other countries to become a dumping ground for the world’s waste.

Interview with Claire Arkin, Global Communications Associate for GAIA

Kathryn Nelson1 Comment