Recycling is in Crisis. Could these Innovations be the Answer?
A year has passed since China halted its recycling program which allowed for various countries including the United States and Australia to sell their recycling to China. China’s “National Sword” policy, enacted in January 2018 banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for the nation’s recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century. This decision was made in an effort to halt the processing of contaminated and soiled materials which were creating yet another environmental problem – and this time not of their own doing.
Due to China’s new policy, many countries have been faced with the challenge of having to deal with their own waste. One country which has found innovative means of dealing with this crisis is Australia. In early August of 2019 leaders in Australia took its first steps in eventually banning the export of any recyclable waste in an effort to increase onshore processing of the materials. With their ultimate goal being to prevent the waste from ending up in the ocean. Policy experts say that reducing consumption of materials is essential. But Australia’s commitment also involves developing novel approaches to recycling.
“Sixteen miles north of Melbourne, there is a road paved with the equivalent of 200,000 plastic bags, 63,000 glass bottles and waste toner from 4,500 printer cartridges. It is the first road in the world made of Reconophalt, a combination of recycled materials and asphalt” (Albeck- Ripka, 2019). So far, hundreds of miles of roads using Reconophalt have been laid around Australia, and trials are taking place in the United States and Britain.
Another idea which has recently gained traction in Sweden, is converting household waste into electricity. In fact, facilities that can incinerate unrecyclable scraps and convert them into electricity have been so effective that the country has begun importing other countries trash. This approach has drawn criticism, having environmental advocates saying the facilities pollute air and waterways, and waste managers warn that the method might discourage other forms of recycling. But proponents say the waste-to-energy technique reduces the use of fossil fuels and cuts potential greenhouse gas emissions from decomposing waste.
There will never be a perfect solution, but it's nevertheless encouraging to see countries taking responsibility to mitigate the negative effects of consumerism.