“Where Have all the Flowers Gone” was a folk song written by Pete Seeger in 1955. I remember the popular Peter, Paul and Mary version on UK radio in the 1960’s when I was growing up. Naturally oblivious as a 4 year old to Seeger’s meditation on mortality and life’s transience, where are those who were before us? Ubi sunt, literally where are they, those that have perished?
Substitute flowers for plastic, not as tragic in the Wilfred Owen or Seeger sense but pertinently tragic for us soldiers on the battlefield of discarded plastic.
Where has all the plastic gone? China has given up recycling the world’s crap, so where is it?
For decades industrialised nations shipped most of their plastic waste primarily to China, where cheap labour and voracious factories dismantled the crap and fashioned into almost everything, even melamine in milk powder. The UK, US and Australia’s problem with waste was made invisible by neatly shipping it lock stock and barrel to China but 2 years ago, China banned plastic waste imports sensibly concerned that emissions from processing the world’s waste was harming their environment.
Now many scrap dealers have rerouted their cargo to Southeast Asia, where recyclers are being overwhelmed by the tide of foreign refuse.
Malaysia in particular has become the ground zero for plastic waste, importing more than 192,000 metric tons in 2018 a 132% jump from 2017.
Southeast Asia is now effectively the dumping ground for world plastic waste even though few in the ASEAN network have a policy for the recycling domestically produced waste, there is certainly no capacity to handle the waste of the world’s leviathans so it is recklessly burnt or bulldozed into landfill.
When China’s door to plastic waste effectively closed, hundreds of Chinese plastic recyclers relocated to Southeast Asia, set up factories and began buying imported plastic trash for “reprocessing” (dumping and burning). In the first half of 2018, imports of plastic trash increased by 56% in Indonesia, doubled in Vietnam, and rose in Thailand by 1,370%
The world’s waste offers some short-term financial gain but long-term environmental damage for all of us.
Make sure you know “where all the plastics have gone”, solve your waste problem at home.