Buried in plastic

‘Plastic China’ is a documentary about the unregulated waste dumps in China. Tens of millions of tons of plastic from the developed world are exported to the country for so-called ‘recycling.’ The film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival last year, went viral, and disappeared from the internet in China, due to ‘some invisible power,’ according to filmmaker Jiu-Liang Wang. In his country, entire villages and areas are concentrated on waste recycling. Often the waste is contaminated. The environment is heavily polluted and workers are intoxicated. Suddenly, in January this year China closed its borders for global trash.

This decision produced a shock wave in other countries. The head of the Bureau of International Recycling called the ban an earthquake. Over the last few decades, European and North-American countries producing most of the waste, used to export most of it to other countries, and primarily to China. Now, waste is piling up in countries such as Germany and Canada. Waste companies in the Netherlands complain that they no longer know what to do what the increasing mountain of waste, and that the government should help. Of course, this is hypocritical. Until last month it was the easiest and cheapest approach to export most of our waste, and to locate the problem and its solution elsewhere. Now we have to face the challenge, and address it ourselves. This was known for years. Recycling policies and processes have been advocated since long. Some countries have taken actions, most have ignored the problem. Sweden is recycling 100 per cent of household waste. In 1975, this was only 38 percent. The country is actually importing waste from Norway and Ireland. China’s ban may therefore be a strong incentive for countries to invest themselves in reducing waste and in recycling. In fact, plastic waste should be banned completely, and sooner than within 25 years as promised by Theresa May.

The amount of plastics produced in 2014 is equivalent to more than 900 Empire States Buildings. The production will double in the next 20 years. American citizens use 500 million straws each day. It is expected that in 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. One in four fish on the market in the United States (2014) were found to have plastic in their guts. Plastics are a serious threat to global health. It is unbelievable that it is not a concern for bioethics.

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