WASTE management consultant Lisa Eve, who works for Eunomia Consulting, says the fact the US has not signed the Basel Convention agreement on plastics is “horrendous”.
The White Pine Bush Road resident said she came to work with the management of waste by accident.
“I was working at the Auckland City Council as a temp and I was known as a bit of a greenie,” she said.
“The kerbside recycling officer went on maternity leave and I took over, with my colleague never returning to work.”
Now, 23 years later, Ms Eve said she’s completed several projects involving plastics.
The Chinese National Sword campaign had been preceded by the Green Fence campaign some years earlier.
“This was the first indication they no longer wanted to be a dumping ground,” Ms Eve said.
“Their government was realising they were destroying the environment in China.”
China is now trying to increase its domestic recycling and because plastics recycling industries is easy to relocate, some of them have been moved to Indonesia and Malaysia.
“This movement started in China and it’s now getting pushed further out.”
Ms Eve said New Zealand needed to take responsibility for its own plastic waste.
“We can recycle plastics of types one, two and five in New Zealand,” she said.
The notion that plastics could only be recycled once was “an old wives’ tale,” Ms Eve said.
“You can recycle it between eight and 10 times, depending on the type of plastic.”
Recent research has indicated these numbers could be increased further, without introducing weaknesses into the plastic polymers.
“The issue is what happens to plastics if it’s not managed properly,” Ms Eve said.
“Plastics are okay in landfills, where it’s stopped from breaking down.”
This was in contrast to organic matter and food waste, which would undergo an anaerobic process in a landfill, thus creating methane and leachate.
“Methane is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”
Ms Eve said people should “stop stressing about plastics so much”, and instead look at the amount of food waste they produce.
“Food waste is typically between a third and half of the waste produced, and if this goes to landfill it will produce methane,” she said.
“Put your food waste into composting instead.”
For the average household, there isn’t a lot you can do about plastics.
“It’s hard to avoid plastics as a consumer,” Ms Eve said.
“Which is why we need to lobby the government for product stewardships when it comes to plastics.”
Submissions to the Government’s Priority Product Stewardship Con-sultation process ended on Friday October 4, but there are still actions a person can take to reduce plastics waste.
“Do you have to buy the product? Or can you avoid it all together?” Ms Eve asked.
“You can buy less, and you can reuse containers.”
By checking that the plastics purchased are of types 1, 2 and 5, New Zealand-based recycling is supported.
“The best plastics are clear type 1 and white type 2 – people can still get good money for them,” Ms Eve said.
“The worst is the Anchor non-see-through bottles that are coated with a silver lining inside – nobody wants them.”
Ms Eve said supermarkets were increasingly using PET packaging that was made from recycled plastics in New Zealand.
“It will say RPET on the packaging, for recycled PET plastics.”
With plastics being produced from oil industry waste, there were more and more complex plastic products being produced, she said.
“That’s why product stewardship is so important,” Ms Eve said.
Plastics and the myth of recycling
WHEN it comes to plastics, the planet is waking up to the mess that there’s plastics everywhere and the production shows little signs of abating.
The Basel Convention website states that over the past 10 years “we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century”.
“Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste generated and constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile,” it says.
“It’s nearly impossible to clean the seas from plastic waste and microplastics. Therefore, this pollution needs to be tackled at source – it’s not sustainable to clean up plastic pollution once it has entered the sea.”
A significant factor in us arriving at this messy place is the recycling scam.
The recycling scam teaches us that it’s we, the consumers and our collective councils, who are responsible for pollution by somehow failing to recycle the way we’re supposed to.
The onus is on us to clean up the environment.
Meanwhile, the producers of plastics have been able to pump out their products unabated.
“We now have a situation where we’ve got used to the convenience of plastics, at least on the consumer side, and where large factories filled with workers are dependent on the income that plastics tsunami production generates.”
The watershed moment came when China in 2018 launched National Sword, a ban on several foreign recyclables. Before that, it had been easy to fill returning containers with plastics and send them to the export nation for “recycling”.
Many commenters cite the documentary film called Plastic China, which shows the plight of a family living and working at a plastics tip, as the reason for National Sword being launched.
Further bans on incoming recyclables are likely to be proclaimed by China.
In September this year, Indonesia announced it was sending back hundreds of waste containers to their countries of origin, including New Zealand, because the containers were contaminated.
In July this year, Cambodia announced it would send 83 containers holding 1600 tonnes of plastic waste back to the USA and Canada.
China and south-east Asian countries are no longer content to be a dumping ground for rubbish coming from the west.
In May this year, the governments of 187 countries, including New Zealand, agreed to add plastics to the Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates movement of hazardous materials from one country to another.
The US did not sign the agreement, but the ruling will still apply to the United States when it tries to trade plastic waste to virtually any country in the world.