Realizing that other countries point at Canada in the nose because it throws garbage in others’ backyards might sound astonishing. Unfortunately, this absurdity is a reality. In this hot May, the Philippines has put on a parade about sending back Canada’s garbage. The plastic wastes from “developed countries” are piled up to a height as high as a two-floor building and it takes up an area the same as two football fields. We exported household wastes to the Philippines and claimed the garbage Canada had sent was recyclable.
We usually dispose of all recyclable wastes seriously and wash them carefully to make these wastes easier to be recycled. However, these wastes are more likely to be sent to Asian countries. Landfills in these countries are now teeming with Canadian plastics, polluting rivers and producing toxic byproducts. This garbage often ends up in illegal factories and junkyards and is buried there. The gloomy facts almost make our efforts on sorting garbage pointless. There are plenty of things Canada needs to improve to eliminate municipal plastic waste, not only from the government’s stance but also from each individual. Lacking a reliable and efficient recycling system makes Canada suffer and the retribution of millions of urban plastic wastes is right there. We still do not attempt to make progress: we either pour the unrecycled recyclable plastics into landfills and oceans or transport them across the planet to another country.
We should all admit that the overwhelming plastic waste is an urgent problem that all of us living on the planet is facing. Piles of plastic waste have accumulated in landfill or flow around the ocean, and only a few of them go through the plastic recycling system and eventually be reborn. Simply having the awareness of how the importance of recycling is not enough, recycling seems to be the sole solution to deal with our waste. However, the brutal truth about Canada’s recycling system is that “only nine percent of the 3.2 million tonnes of plastic waste generated each year in Canada are recycled” (“Canada recycles just 9 percent of its plastics.”). And this reflects that the majority of Canada’s plastic waste goes into landfills or oceans, destroying the environment further. The unexpectedly low number directly indicates the irrationality of our current recycling system. The plastics that pour into landfills create chemicals that “include heavy metals, pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which can disrupt important physiological processes of animals causing for example diseases and problems in reproduction” (“TOXICITY OF PLASTICS.”). This would lead to devastating destruction to the planet that we all rely on, and the negative effects not only apply to animals and plants but also to humans. As plastics sit there being compressed among layers of other junk, rainwater mixes with the waste. And absorbs the water-soluble compounds it contains, and some of them are highly toxic. In addition, plastic waste also flows from rivers to oceans and is slowly drawn into a massive vortex since they are trapped by ocean currents. The trash accumulates and becomes garbage piles called “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, and they are named the “North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, and Indian Ocean gyres” (Bryce). Even though they seem far away from us, they still affect our lives penetratively, as the animals who are directly harmed by plastic waste will pass the toxins through food chains and send these back to our stomachs. Millions of marine animals are killed by plastics every year. Regardless of how plastics may destroy the planet in different aspects, people still cannot get rid of them, and using plastics is essential to our lives.
On the other hand, people cannot live without plastic because of its versatility and low price, even though we know how destructive plastic waste is. The recycling process of plastic costs more than simply making new ones, “since cleaning and preparing used plastics takes a lot of water, energy, and effort” (Kramer). The major raw material for making plastics is oil. In another word, as long as the price of oil remains low, the cost of making new plastics will still attract us. In 2018, the cost of making post-consumer plastics “went from 30.13 cents per pound (0.45kg) to the price of 29.97 cents per pound” (“Post-consumer fiber and plastic prices remain steady.”). While other substitutions of plastics like paper and glasses cost only 4-5 cents per bag and $1.3-2 per glass bottle, the cost of plastic becomes so significant to dominate the market. The production and consumption of plastics faced a dramatic increase “from 1960 when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream” (“The Problems with Plastics.”). By analyzing the data, Precisely because of the versatility and low prices of plastics, it easily replaced other materials gradually as soon as it was invented. We drown in the plastic, the convenience and versatility it brought. We made plastics and we depended on them. Plastics are light, so they can easily be transported, they can be made into various textures and shapes, and they can also be made as containers for almost everything. Nowadays, even an eco-friendly person still has to compromise them since they “are used to make bicycle helmets, child safety seats and airbags in automobiles. They’re in the cell phones, televisions, computers, and other electronic equipment that makes modern life possible. They’re in the roofs, walls, flooring, and insulation that make homes and buildings energy efficient. And plastics in packaging help keep foods safe and fresh” (“Plastics.”). People’s lives are manipulated by plastic; we are no longer able to imagine the days without plastic. This material’s low price, convenience, and the way it infiltrates into our lives attribute to the prevailing phenomenon of using plastics inevitably.
The high cost spent on recycling directly determines the types of plastics that can be recycled, however, issues that relate to economics and politics are the two biggest barriers. The fact of “establishing new recycling protocols often involves a high initial cost” attributes to its soaring price-tag, since “recycling isn’t a process that just happens. Some units need to be set up, factory upgrades that need to be made, and attaining trucks to haul the recycled material” (Recycling Advantages & Disadvantages: The Ups & Downs of Recycling). Cost determines how well our recycling systems perform since facilities and technologies all require funds. However, if we produce new plastics or do not dispose of the wastes by recycling, the prices become much more friendly: the methane emissions from burning natural gases, greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and the lands that are used for disposing of waste plastics are all unmitigated and unpriced. In that case, recycling has no competitiveness economically. Countries that are “brilliant” and wealthy, like Canada, come up with an idea to deal with their plastic waste: they sell plastics to Asian countries like China, the Philippines, and so on. Ideally, these wastes will later be recycled in these countries. But it’s impossible for these countries to recycle while Canada can't recycle. And there is no such a country’s recycling system that can afford the enormous amount of plastics. The truth is “many countries in Asia have become the world's dumping ground for plastic waste. About 12 percent of Canada's plastic waste is sent outside of North America to be 'recycled' (Young)”. Regardless of your nationality, poverty, or wealth, the retribution of disposing of plastic waste terribly will always approach us sooner or later. David Stitch, an environment consultant, made a test based on how well can people tell which types of plastics are recyclable or not. Unfortunately, the results illustrate that most Canadian citizens cannot recognize recyclable plastics correctly. Most of the participants could not tell which material is recyclable or not, and they are often amazed by how to limit the types of plastics that can be recycled. Many people would classify the plastics that they consider as recyclable according to very misunderstood sign-on packages (Ellenwood). As you might notice when you are purchasing plastic goods, there seems always to be a sign that looks very similar to the sign on your blue bins, and many people think the sign means the material is recyclable. You also realize a number is printed on the center of the sign, assuming it’s a mysterious sign, and then throws it into the blue bin. However, this goes against the facts, different numbers represent different categories of plastic and the recycle sign that has three arrows surrounding means nothing. Overall, we need to raise awareness of plastic recycling, and this should be advertised by governments. The challenges mainly focus on economics since the manufacturers have to make profits from their businesses and the expensive recycled material is not a good choice for them. Before the earth becomes the graveyard of garbage totally, we shall finally come up with a solution to save not only the earth but also ourselves.
What we can do to improve is the most important thing to talk about. Speaking of plastic recycling, many people don’t even know which material is recyclable, many places could change their recycling methods to the one most suitable and many people are still using disposable plastics very often. As a world leader in performance in recycling, Germany’s recycling system is the one that we can learn from. Compared to having only one blue bin for the recycling wastes, Germans are splitting it into more detailed categories: “homes and apartment buildings have yellow bins for packaging, plastic, and metals; brown bins for compostable waste and gray bins for other trash. Each neighborhood has large, centrally located containers for glass bottles” (“All About Recycling in Germany.”). They have to follow the rules strictly, otherwise, the person will be fined a high penalty. Clear classification is one of the most important parts of recycling because “there are many different types of materials, and the combination options are high. This minimizes the recyclability,” (Wecker). It performed well in Germany and it reaches the result that 38 percent of waste plastic is recycled; which Canada only reaches 9 percent. The other “perfect model” of recycling is no longer prevails since the end of the second world war. Recycling was incredibly successful at that time in America due to the war effects: “Households across the country were asked to collect metals, paper, bones, rags and fat… Metals from old machinery, trucks, and cars were recycled into airplanes, jeeps, and tanks” (“Salvage – Recycle.”). Despite the fact that it was not done for the environment, everything else was so impressive and we can learn its rules and regulations. Even though it might not be feasible under current conditions in Canada, it brings us the possibility of an efficient recycling system since we have done this already. In order to improve Canada’s recycling system, we need to find out our solutions from Germany’s and the previous recycling system, unifying our unique situations.
Recycling, as part of a sustainable lifestyle, is the most important and urgent problem to address in Canada. The dispute between Canada and the Philippines ended up with Canada taking its trash back to Vancouver. We have to pay for the cost of transportation again, which means we sent this garbage on a trip. Now, we take them back, taking those half-rotten plastics, nondegradable materials, and irresolvable problems back. According to the current situation, the most likely things to happen are pouring them into landfills or burned. And it would bring devastation to the environment, attributing to the consequence that we should suffer. The difficulties of plastic recycling are not something impossible to overcome, and human effort is the decisive factor, especially when issues are related to economics and politics. The governments should find out regulations that make the recycling system more sustainable and healthier. The recycling system current Germany and World War 2 in America inspire and motivate us by offering a successful and impressive achievement. Meanwhile, the consumption habit is the thing you can change easily. As long as the market does not require this huge amount of plastics, the waste of plastics will decrease as production decreases. We have to always be prepared for the worst condition and put our most effort to avoid them.
- “All About Recycling in Germany.”, How to Germany, 2019, https://www.howtogermany.com/pages/recycling.html.
- Bryce, Emma. “What Really Happens to the Plastic You Throw Away?”, TED, Apr. 2015, www.ted.com/talks/emma_bryce_what_really_happens_to_the_plastic_you_throw_away?language=en#t-87142.
- “Canada recycles just 9 percent of its plastics.”, Recycling Council of Ontario Logo, CanadaHelps, 22 April 2019, https://rco.on.ca/canada-recycles-just-9-per-cent-of-its-plastics/.
- Ellenwood, Lisa. “Forever Plastic. Forever Plastic.”, CBC/Radio-Canada, 2009, curio.ca/en/video/forever-plastic-1144/.
- Kramer, Sarah. “The one thing that makes recycling plastic work is falling apart.”, Business Insider, 5 April 2016, https://www.businessinsider.com/low-oil-prices-hurt-plastics-recycling-2016-4.
- “Post-consumer fiber and plastic prices remain steady.”, RESOURCE RECYCLING, 9 January 2018, https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2018/01/09/post-consumer-fiber-plastic-prices-remain-steady/.
- “Plastics.”, ChemicalSafetyFacts, 2019, https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/plastics/.
- “Salvage – Recycle.”, Summerside Prince Edward Island, http://www.wyattheritage.com/homefront/salvage.asp.html.
- “The Problems with Plastics.”, Ecology Center, https://ecologycenter.org/plastics/.
- “Toxicity of Plastics.”, Blastic Project, European Union, 2018, https://www.blastic.eu/knowledge-bank/impacts/toxicity-plastics/.
- Wecker, Katharina. “Plastic waste and the recycling myth.”, 12 October 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/plastic-waste-and-the-recycling-myth/a-45746469.
- Young, Rachelle. “Canada’s plastic problem: Sorting fact from fiction.”, Oceana, 25 October 2019, https://oceana.ca/en/blog/canadas-plastic-problem-sorting-fact-fiction.