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The plastic nightmare "When China wakes up ... the world will shake"

The plastic nightmare

"When China wakes up ... the world will shake" is the title of a 1973 book, written by the French politicianAlain Peyrefitte. In the 45 years since then, China has not only awakened it has also caused concerns to Europe and the United States. In 2018, however, the world is already shaking.

For several years, China has become one of the largest producers of all kinds of goods (therefore it is the largest global polluter: it emits 28% of total carbon dioxide emissions, according to World Bank data). To export them I needed cheap packaging. Then he began to import garbage to recycle it and keep packaging materials. By the way, it obtained certain essential elements for its industries, such as copper. Both Europe and the United States were happy to supply garbage to China. Thus the rich countries of the North were spared a problem and even received a small payment.

By selling garbage to China, rich countries were rid of the obnoxious plastic, a "practical" invention that became the Frankenstein stuff of the West. Due to its composition, plastic is not biodegradable. And its recycling is a nightmare. 90% of metals are recycled, of plastic only 10% are recycled. That's because the 20 different types out there don't mix easily. That is known to the entrepreneurs. ("Plastic garbage: why is recycling so difficult?" Proexpansión, 2015-05-26, Peru).

The plastic nightmare began. The BBC in London announces it on January 8, 2018. According to the United Nations, in 2017 China imported more than seven million tons of plastic waste from Europe, the United States and Japan: 70% of all the plastic discarded in the world.

China notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that as of March 2018 it would ban imports of 24 categories of recyclable material and solid waste, including plastics. Now the WTO is asking China to postpone the ban. Last year, the United States exported 1,400,000 tons of plastic waste to China. And it is not that only China imports garbage, India does too, but China has been the first importer of garbage in the world until today, with a great difference over the others.

There are two alternatives, the alternative "patch" solution and the rational one. The first is that of savage capitalism that does not want to spend a lot on the transition. It is already looking to change buyers, looking for other countries in East Asia, they could even think of a country in Latin America. They may even offer garbage free to some African countries, anything is possible. If there is no other solution, they could even pay to receive the garbage. In other articles, I have recalled the terrible "Lawrence Summers memorandum", by which, with neoliberal logic, Summers recommended placing toxic waste in countries that have the lowest income per capita, because they have a shorter life expectancy!

The rational and environmentally friendly solution is to start reducing production in rich countries (there is a whole debate and global approach on thedecrease economic), the production of plastics and finding creative solutions to recycle plastic waste. Transporting these wastes is not only expensive, but also causes more environmental damage. For this reason, you have to try to recycle the garbage locally. On an individual level, however, even environmentally conscious people will continue to buy plastic water bottles.

By Fander Falconí
Ecological economist, academic and Ecuadorian politician. He is currently the Minister of Education of the Ecuadorian government. He has held positions as Chancellor and National Secretary of Planning.

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