Rethinking Recycling, as China Pulls the Plug

Following the irony of environmental leader China (??) refusing to be the recipient of the world’s ‘recycling’ rubbish, Australian government responses seem to be:  ‘OMG, we’ll have to stop recycling’.  Another chance for Australia to be a world leader looks like going begging.  Surely there’s a better response than putting our head in the sand, as plastic and other recyclable products pile up on ocean beaches, in fish and in us, all over the world.Why is our recycling going to China anyway?

Our first discovery is that our waste, instead of actually being ‘recycled’, is being shipped to China, where we have no control over what happens to it…but frankly most people don’t care.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Thanks, China, for taking our rubbish!  Phew…

Now, as one small part of its emerging role as global leader in the leadership vacuum created by both the US and EU, China has decided it will no longer take other people’s rubbish.  Our convenient, low cost solution to avoiding dealing with our own waste is suddenly no longer available.  Without warning.  Cut off.  Stopped.  Oops, we might have to look after it ourselves!  OMG, headless chickens abound!

What should we do?

Our first approach it seems is to avoid the problem.  Let’s just treat all recycling as general waste – even though the whole point of recycling is to avoid this.  Bury it, increase our landfill and end any recycling industry we have at all, because it is too costly to be done here.

This is undoubtedly the stupidest solution of all.  It’s also the most irresponsible.  It is OUR waste.  WE are responsible for it.  It CAN be recycled.  The immediate questions are is only how, by whom, at what cost? The BIG questions, however are really, ‘How can we reduce our recycling significantly AND create a viable, socially responsible recycling industry?’

Creating a new innovative, global industry

Sweden and some European cities (Amsterdam and a number of French provincials) burn their waste and create energy and electricity, thereby stopping landfill and simultaneously reducing fossil-fuel power needs.  Sweden recycles 99% of household waste.  Unlike China, these places have high labour and capital costs.  Why can’t we copy them?  Further, as with our technical R&D expertise in solar power, why can’t we use innovation (the Prime Minister’s favourite slogan) to take on this global challenge and develop expertise in recycling that can be exported to the world?

Communities drive.  Governments stop.

Where I live, a new community-investment solar power station is being proposed, by residents, to provide local solar power, to avoid the crazy electricity charges resulting from recent government  irregulation of privately-owned fossil-fuel power distributors.  The proposers have been inundated with enthusiasm.  An initial residents’ meeting was oversubscribed within 24 hours and 4 others are now planned!

The community is driving new, plastic-free behaviours (beginning with plastic bag free supermarkets across Australia within months), recognising the immense systemic damage being done by plastics to our whole world.

I suspect that, if an expert recycling company proposed an innovative solution to community recycling, a similar response would emerge from the community.  Governments at all levels, rather than helping to develop innovative systems to real  living problems, are getting in the way and stopping progress.

Thanks China, for forcing us to take responsibility for our own problem.  Now let’s think rationally, innovatively in a future-oriented way about solving this problem –  properly this time.  We are smart.  We are capable.  We can be determined.  Let’s do it.


One thought on “Rethinking Recycling, as China Pulls the Plug

  1. Nicely said.
    To think of the issue systematically will we have to separate and return all components made in China?
    Better still should we join the 4th industrial revolution to shorten supply chains to arenas we can control (Zara) and recycle waste from within the production-consumption process (Story of Stuff )? Will this encourage our Communities to join the Glocal revolution and ensure technical innovation creates not destroys jobs and the commons. An innovation that adds more value to the commons and to the lives of the many who spend this added value on the community and the commons. Is this antiglobalist? This is anti centralised globalist. Centralised by and for trillion $ corporations. If these agents are bestowed with the sovereignty they steal from autocracies and democracies alike why would they not robotise their consumers to match the robotisation of their producers?


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