The Guardian has embarked on a remarkable journalistic endeavor that will help the average person understand the current state of plastic recycling in the United States and how it affects the global community. The website has begun publishing a series of reports titled, “The United States of Plastic.” The first piece was posted earlier this week.
A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries are contributing to the investigation. Among their findings in just the first report include:
Last year, the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of American plastic recycling were exported from the US to developing countries that mismanage more than 70% of their own plastic waste.
The newest hotspots for handling US plastic recycling are some of the world’s poorest countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia and Senegal, offering cheap labor and limited environmental regulation.
In some places, like Turkey, a surge in foreign waste shipments is disrupting efforts to handle locally generated plastics.
With these nations overwhelmed, thousands of tons of waste plastic are stranded at home in the US, as we reveal in our story later this week.
A lot of the information gathered by the Guardian reporters is pretty easy to come by. They are simply putting in the time and effort to collect it, analyze it, and talk to and question experts about it. Here’s another small sample of their first article:
“Since the China ban, America’s plastic waste has become a global hot potato, ping-ponging from country to country. The Guardian’s analysis of shipping records and US Census Bureau export data has found that America is still shipping more than 1m tons a year of its plastic waste overseas, much of it to places that are already virtually drowning in it.
A red flag to researchers is that many of these countries ranked very poorly on metrics of how well they handle their own plastic waste. A study led by the University of Georgia researcher Jenna Jambeck found that Malaysia, the biggest recipient of US plastic recycling since the China ban, mismanaged 55% of its own plastic waste, meaning it was dumped or inadequately disposed of at sites such as open landfills. Indonesia and Vietnam improperly managed 81% and 86%, respectively.”
The report is also more than just citing facts and figures. It includes perspective from the countries where the plastic is ending up. It shows you GIFs and maps and graphs that help understand where our plastic waste is or is not being recycled.
I would encourage you all to send the link to your friends and family who are not in the recycling or waste industry. And why stop there? Post it to all of your social media outlets. The more people we can get to have an informed perspective, the better.