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What to do with the plastic waste if china no longer wants it?

Anna Herist01/22/2018

Around 87 % of all plastic waste from the EU was exported to China until the beginning of 2018. Read and learn more! (Source: www.iswa.org)

China imposes ban on the import of waste

So far, handling plastic waste was quite simple: mixed plastic fractions were roughly sorted and then pressed or processed into granulate. Afterwards, this was shipped to China, there converted into secondary raw materials and finally found its way back to the source. A small plastic cycle, so to speak, which ends now. From 01.01.2018, China has imposed a ban on the import of 24 different types of waste, including plastic waste, paper as well as electronic scrap.

Lack of disposal facilities and capacity limits

It is a well-known fact that the volumes of plastic waste are constantly increasing. On average, each EU citizen produces 31 kg of plastic waste (Source). This is mainly due to the fact that the proportion of plastic packaging is growing continuously, and that the current economic situation causes people to consume more.

Almost half of this plastic waste is recycled, the rest is incinerated or exported. However, since disposal facilities are scarce in many places and the existing recycling providers have already reached their capacity limits, there is only one way out: exporting – mostly to China. As a result, the EU waste exports of 21.6 million tonnes in 2004 increased to 34.8 million tonnes in 2016 (source: SZ figure, German Federal Statistical Office, Eurostat).

So, what to do with the heaps of plastic waste?

What options are left when the biggest outlet is no longer available? Recycling, incinerating or landfilling.

The waste incineration plants already operate at full capacity, in addition, incineration is a bad solution – due to the value of the materials and the carbon footprint. Landfilling also has little prospects since, as from 2025, landfilling of recyclable household waste such as plastic and paper will be banned. This leaves us with one last option – recycling.

Still much room for improvement

Plastic recycling is time-consuming and expensive – the environmental benefit, especially of plastic collected as unsorted, is quite small, unfortunately. Existing plants often struggle with price fluctuations, expensive process management and a lack of customers. Compulsory quotas for the use of secondary raw materials and tax incentives would make the business more lucrative and establish room for technical developments.

“We need to invest more in better recycling and sorting systems”, confirmed the spokesperson for REMONDIS, industry leader and COSMO CONSULT customer. (Source)

There is no way around it

Recycling is valuable because it preserves primary resources and counters the pollution of our planet, especially of the oceans. Of the 78 million tonnes of used plastic packaging, 32 % enter the environment in an uncontrolled way, ¾ of the marine waste is made up of plastic. (Source)

The fatal problem is that the plastic remains there for 300 to 400 years, it decomposes very slowly into smaller particles and, through the food chain, returns to the human circulation. Small micro plastic particles can already be detected in the human organism, and also an integration into the cells can occur.

Hence, there is no way around recycling, and an expansion of the recycling industry is virtually inevitable. cc|environmental services offers a solution based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations (formerly AX) which allows mapping the characteristics of the waste management industry. Reverse logistics, waste disposal and recycling can be captured and recorded in an industry-specific manner. Not only does this enable optimizing and automating processes, but also uncovering and eliminating inefficiencies.

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About the Author: Anna Herist

Anna Theresa Herist works as a Junior Application Consultant in the ERP Environmental division with COSMO CONSULT (formerly FWI). In autumn 2017, she completed her diploma studies of Environmental and Bioresources Management at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, and has recently joined ERP consulting.

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