With China’s Ban on Waste Imports, Europe Announces New Recycling Initiatives

In the wake of China’s ban on the import of foreign garbage, which took effect earlier this month, countries across the globe are scrambling to figure out what to do with the thousands of tons of trash piling up at their ports. Now, Europe has announced it is launching an aggressive new recycling initiative to reduce plastic waste and garbage exports.

The project will take aim at “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes, and it takes 500 years to break down again,” Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission, told The Guardian.

European policymakers are designating more than $120 million for research into better plastic designs, durability, and recyclability; mulling a ban on microplastics often found in cosmetics and other personal care products; tightening port regulations to prevent the disposal of waste into the ocean; and considering taxing single-use plastics.

The initiatives build on a legally binding policy adopted by European nations last month to recycle 55 percent of plastic packaging waste by 2030 and a ban on landfilling separately collected waste, Reuters reported.

Before its new ban, China was the world’s largest importer of plastic waste, taking in 7.3 million metric tons in 2016 from countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan — recycled material valued at $3.7 billion. It used much of the imports to fuel its booming manufacturing industry. But Chinese government officials said last year that too many non-recyclables were ending up in the imported waste stream. China instead hopes to boost domestic recycling to supply its manufacturing sector with material.

Hoping to benefit from China’s ban, several Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia and Vietnam, plan to build up their own waste import sectors.