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trueHUE® Water cooler stories
A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found:
These failures in the recycling system are adding to a growing sense of crisis around plastic, a wonder material that has enabled everything from toothbrushes to space helmets but is now found in enormous quantities in the oceans and has even been detected in the human digestive system.
Reflecting grave concerns around plastic waste, last month, 187 countries signed a treaty giving nations the power to block the import of contaminated or hard-to-recycle plastic trash.
Of the 9% of America’s plastic that the Environmental Protection Agency estimated was recycled in 2015, China and Hong Kong handled more than half: about 1.6m tons of our plastic recycling every year. T
Amid growing environmental and health fears, China shut its doors to all but the cleanest plastics in late 2017.
A study led by the University of Georgia researcher Jenna Jambeck found that Malaysia, the biggest recipient of US plastic recycling since the China ban, mismanaged 55% of its own plastic waste, meaning it was dumped or inadequately disposed of at sites such as open landfills. Indonesia and Vietnam improperly managed 81% and 86%, respectively.
In 2018, the US sent 83,000 tons of plastic recycling to Vietnam. The Guardian found that each month throughout the second half of 2018, container ships ferried about 260 tons of US plastic scrap into one of the most dystopian, plastic-covered places of all: the Cambodian seaside town of Sihanoukville, where, in some areas, almost every inch of the ocean is covered with floating plastic and the beach is nothing but a glinting carpet of polymers.
A study released this spring by the environmental group Gaia documented the human toll of US plastics exports on the countries that receive them.
“The impact of the shift in plastic trade to south-east Asian countries has been staggering – contaminated water supplies, crop death, respiratory illness from exposure to burning plastic, and the rise of organized crime abound in areas most exposed to the flood of new imports,” the report found.