Manufacturing and waste are two inseparable things. As long as manufacturing continues, there will be waste. The important point is how to minimize waste while manufacturing continues.
Recycling is just one big component in waste management, along with reduce and re-use methods. To make the recycling process as efficient as possible, starting by separating the waste is crucial. Making the separation between cardboard, metal, glass, and plastic is relatively easy. The complicated part is to separate the plastic.
The plastic that is used in food containers and packagings don’t always have the same structure and needs to be separated more meticulously as to their colors or their density levels. On top of that, since plastic is widely used in food packaging, no matter how carefully a consumer cleans it before throwing it away, in most cases the food particles still remain and mold in the plastic package. In such cases, those particular plastic pieces should be excluded from the recycling process. Since we are not talking about small amounts, trying to separate the contaminated pieces manually would be an extremely labor-intensive process and that is why a well functioning recycling system that depends on technology is essential.
Could it be said that developed countries such as the US and EU are using the technology they have to create a sustainable recycling system where no waste ends up in landfills?
Unfortunately, this is not happening. If the process was working as efficiently as the US and EU are claiming to be, then a German snack package wouldn’t be found in Henderson Island which is located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. How is it possible for an uninhabited Pacific island to be polluted with western trash if the western world is taken care of the waste in the best way?
The annoying truth is that western countries produce way more waste than they can recycle with their existed recycling systems. What is their solution, you wonder. Their solution is to export their waste on the other side of the globe, to developing countries which have neither capacity nor an adequate technology to recycle that waste. But it is still a solution since the trash goes out of sight, right?
Trash might go out of sight but it definitely does not disappear. When the waste is imported to countries like Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, or Malaysia the waste is not in the best hands to be handled. These countries have poor waste management systems and it is no secret. Also, most of the waste that is shipped to these countries doesn’t include the best quality of plastics or other materials. On the contrary, the quality of the waste is usually very low and contaminated which makes the recycling process nearly impossible. Also, the amount we are talking about is ridiculously big. According to Greenpeace, in the first seven months in 2018, around 754,000 tons of waste was shipped to Malaysia and almost one-third of the waste was from the US (Cwienk, 2019). Well then, what exactly happens to that waste once it is sent to those developing Asian countries?
Most of that waste piles up in the ports and eventually decompose there because of the lack of waste management. Some go to illegal recyclers to be burnt and used as a fuel. The part of the waste that cannot be taken care of in any way ends up