Exporting Our Plastic Waste Is Contributing To The Misery Of Developing Countries

The export of waste plastic to third world countries is simply outsourcing our guilt about a problem we need to solve.

 The UK sent around 7,000 metric tons of plastic waste abroad in September 2020 according to The Last Beach Cleanup. Outsourcing our love of plastics, often single-use to countries that don’t always have effective waste management processes is a moral outrage.

Yesterday, Greenpeace posted ‘Wasteminster: A Downing Street Disaster’, a short video illustrating the way our actions do not match up with the words from our mouths or the values we espouse.

Watch the video below.

The 1m48s video depicts Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving a speech about how proud we, as Britons, can be about our government being a global leader in tackling plastic pollution as a gradually increasing number of plastic items fall from the sky before turning into a torrent, washing Boris Johnson along downing street and bursting through the security fence at the end of the road.

According to the Greenpeace video, “[p]lastic waste the government claims is recycled is being dumped and burned overseas causing a health emergency for local people, killing wildlife and polluting our oceans.”

The misery caused in developing countries comes through their disposal methods or lack thereof. Plastic could be dumped or burned in open fires, causing health hazards to local people and releasing dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere. The unwanted plastic can also find its way into the ocean.

Greenpeace would like there to be a ban on all plastic waste exports by 2025, in addition to legally-binding targets to reduce single-use plastics by 50% by 2025. their latest video is designed to spark the debate, but will it lead to real change? But if Britain uses Brexit as a way to export more waste, Greenpeace will really need to cause a stir to get anywhere near their goals.

Outsourcing Guilt

We are outsourcing guilt over the waste we produce, by believing lead to believe we’re doing our bit to re-cycle.

Previously, China would take a lot of plastic waste and re-cycle it. Nowadays, they’re not interested in taking masses of our waste plastics among other things and that lead to waste piling up at British recycling centres at the start of 2018. Apparently the solution to that problem was just exporting to other countries instead.

We see it as being the same thing with electric vehicles. All we’re doing is moving the emissions from our cities to the countryside. It makes us feel good to be in our new cars, but how was the battery in that car made? Where does the power actually come from? The guilt of environmental destruction has been outsourced, or just pushed to another location out of sight and out of mind.

Instead of dumping it on developing countries that may not have the resources to handle it, would it be better to just burn the plastic to produce power instead of placing the burden of disposal on developing countries? From an energy point of view, more energy is saved through recycling than is gained through incineration, so the answer to that question would be no.

Superficial Changes

It’s always good to make better choices every time, but we can’t close our eyes to what’s happening around us. Doing small things like not using plastic straws is great, but it’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon of movements that want to achieve small, simple changes rather than achieving real change, which is much more difficult.

The furore around use of plastic straws lead to a lot more awareness and changes by multinational corporations and individual people alike. One video we remember vividly is of a turtle that had a plastic straw stuck up its nose. The video was painful to watch and that really helped push people into making a change.

Remember Seaspiracy? The documentary showed us the problem of plastic in the ocean isn’t just one of stopping the use of the plastic we consume. Cleaning up the ocean is also about making real change in the fishing industry. What about the discarded fishing nets that trap, injure and kill 650,000 marine animals every year?

 It’s hard to change the behaviour of an industry maintained with huge subsidies and has huge corporations behind it.

This particularly tweet and a few others on the thread made for an interesting read. People are beginning to realise that superficial actions are not enough.tweet and a few others were an interesting read.

Despite having the resources to do so, instead of dealing with the problems we’ve created, we outsource the problem to those who lack the resources to deal with them effectively. This video is only asking people to share it and pass on the message. Sharing the video does nothing. What real action are you going to take to stop this problem?

It’s important that we don’t outsource actions to hollow words that just sound good.