Greenpeace conducted a plastic audit on World Clean Up day on September 2018 in Canadian shorelines such as Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal as part of their international Break Free from Plastic campaign. Cumulatively, there were 10,000 L of waste collected and they identified 46% of plastic waste belonging to Tim Hortons, Nestle Pure Life, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, and Starbucks. Other frequent multinational brands that made up the 10,000 L of waste were from:
Proctor and Gamble
Perfetti van Melle
It is not a surprise that 75% of the waste were from plastic. The top 10 include:
Of course, there are many others you can find in polluted oceans such as glass bottles, paper, plastic food bags, and even cigarette butts as listed in the list of “dirty dozen” from the Center for Marine Conservation .
The infamous question that consumers ask themselves is: How did it end up there? I sorted my plastics in my blue box, I’ve done my part, therefore isn’t the City’s waste municipal system responsible for the recycling process?
The City of Hamilton has a 2 stream recycling system. Once the truck empties our blue boxes into their plastics and metals compartment, and papers and cardboard compartment, this is brought to the Material and Recovery Facility where all the material goes through an extensive sorting process. At this centre, plastic and metal is sent down a conveyor belt and organized into 11 different categories, manually by hand. This is why it is important to clean out all of your containers! A machine is then used to separate aluminum as it is one of the most valuable recycling components from the tin cans. As for the plastic, it is organized into PET, HDPE, film plastic and newspaper and PP. The remaining separated material gets compressed and formed into a cube-like mass of waste called a bale.
These bales are organized into different components of plastic, glass or paper, and then sold to the actual recycling facilities that offer the highest bid to gain the most revenue. Majority of the buyers of raw material is in Southeast Asia in which they offer $100-$150/tonne. During the transport of the plastics overseas, remnants of micro-plastics are prone to spill in the ocean. Once the plastics are in the ocean, they are mixed through currents that arrive anywhere from habitats to uninhabited lands such as the Pacific. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam accept 80-87% of recycled plastics. Philippines and Myanmar are also on the verge of the global market of accepting plastics from Australia and North America. This is usually shipped to rural villages that informally sort through the plastics by washing and burning them manually. With little to no safety equipment, the health of the works are compromised as they are exposed to toxic air pollutants such as dioxin. As for the environmental concerns, the discharge from washing the plastics can be as much as 7 million L of contaminants entering the water sources. Additionally, if the plastics are unusable, they are dumped into rivers, in which they are distributed throughout the village.
The good news is that Thailand will be banning plastic imports by 2021, while China started the ban in January. Indonesia is committed to analyzing 100% of their plastic imports currently. There is ongoing research at the Vietnam Cleaner Production Centre in which they joined a project with 5 other countries that received $1 million euros to discover a higher management of recyclables and plastics, and to connect the academic and industrial world on environmentally-sound practices. This is also beneficial in decreasing the informal processes. There is still alot of work to be done, and is up to the developed nations such as Canada, U.S, Japan, and the U.K to become a leader in finding the next solutions of recycling within their own countries. It is easier said than done, as proven in Greenpeace’s report, where Canada had exported 9,954 tons of plastic waste to Malaysia in 2018. This was recorded higher in Malaysia’s reports compared to StatisticsCanada. Ever since China’s ban, Montreal’s recycling plant called Sherbrooke, is facing dire challenges on how to proceed with their waste – including plastic. Colchester County in Nova Scotia is also looking for new markets to ship their plastic waste, but it is unknown as to where the next destination will be, and may seek a provincial permit to dump the waste in landfill.
Developed countries need to find feasible alternatives that consist of finding local sellers that can recycle and reprocess our waste. The waste that is diverted in developing countries are almost fully saturated, and there must be action taken at a government level to regulate recycling processes at home, here in Canada.