Why Is Australia Sending Its Plastic Waste Overseas?

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Plastic pollution has become a global concern worldwide.

Research shows Australians used 3.5 million tonnes of plastic in 2016-17, with about 180,100 tonnes reprocessed in Australia.

To address this issue, Australia and other countries started to ship their plastic waste overseas to nations willing to recycle it.

In the beginning, 235,100 tonnes of waste from Australia was sent overseas.

Unfortunately, many receiving countries have complained about receiving contaminated and non-recyclable waste illegally shipped from Australia.

In this article, I will highlight the key issues that sending waste from wealthy nations to other countries brings to local communities, the history of shipping plastic waste to China and discuss our growing dependency on plastic.

The History Of Shipping Plastic-Waste Overseas

Single-use plastic consumption is a global problem. It is convenient, cheap and everywhere. Eventually, there became a serious issue. Recycling facilities and systems lacked the ability to keep up with demand and consumers continue to purchase more plastic than ever before.

The emerging markets in China during the 1990s came as a solution to this issue since they found plastic materials could be used profitably to manufacture goods for sale or export. China began managing the excess plastic waste from outside countries.

Since 1988, high-income countries have been the primary exporters of plastic waste, contributing to 87% of all exports. For decades, China was the centre of the global plastic waste trade.

The Chinese managed to feed their manufacturing industry with recycled materials made out of plastic waste and ship manufactured goods back to the United States and Europe; this went on and on for years.

China reached 51% of the world’s recyclable waste imports by 2016, mostly from developed countries.

China’s Ban For All Waste Streams

In January 2018, China enforced a new policy to protect its nation from foreign pollution.

This policy banned the import of 24 different kinds of waste, including various plastics, and enforced quality standards that exporting countries found impossible to comply with.