When it comes to plastics, the recycling industry has always been a sham. Dutiful consumers reasonably expect their recycling efforts are rewarded by beneficial results, but are often deceived, becoming unwitting accessories to continuing environmental and international trade crimes—a handful of recycled plastic picnic tables notwithstanding.
Our Oceans reveal the mounting damage. Of the +300 million tons of plastics produced every year, 8 million tons end up swirling about in our oceans. More than 50% of this plastic waste is lighter than water, circulating endlessly and degrading into micro particles that enter not only the marine food chain, but ultimately our own. Some of us may worry about the health consequences for marine life, but all of us should notice when micro particles are found in human food and water. A 2019 study by the University of Newcastle estimates that the average person consumes up to 5 grams of micro plastics per week—as much as a standard credit card!
Everyone is culpable. While enjoying the low cost of plastic-based products and packaging, we are leaving friends and family, and the entire planet with the bill for plastic’s end-of-life costs.
Very simply, the overall cost of responsible recycling exceeds the value of reclaimed plastic so long as petroleum prices remain relatively moderate. Most of the recycling industry has adapted by outsourcing volumes to low wage countries where labor is cheap, and environmental controls inadequate for preventing contaminated or mixed plastics from being dumped into local watersheds, and hence to the sea. The truth: unless you pay at least a nominal fee to recycle plastic, your waste is almost surely contributing to an irresponsible end.
The Basel Convention, the United Nations treaty regulating trade in hazardous waste, has finally expanded its scope to include plastics. Unfortunately, the United States is one of a few countries globally not to ratify the treaty, so it is perfectly legal under U.S. Federal law to export plastics to developing countries. Countries which have ratified Basel—most others on Earth—are prohibited from receiving waste from non-Basel countries, making import of most scrap plastics from the U.S. illegal. Our friends at the Basel Action Network report nonetheless that plastics exports from America continue to rise despite the recent ban.
It’s up to us to insist that our recyclers—and their entire supply chains—act in compliance with the Basel Convention. Although plastics from e-waste are a small part of the problem, it is important to note that of all ‘certified’ e-recyclers, only Certified e-Stewards are audited for Basel compliance. In lieu of responsible recycling, it is a sad irony that disposing of plastics in a properly managed sanitary landfill is environmentally preferable to the status quo.
As a Certified e-Steward, Sage will continue to manage our downstream supply chain to ensure its compliance with the Basel Convention. As a Founding Member of the Coalition of American Electronics Recyclers (CAER), we will press the U.S. Senate to ratify the Basel Convention. Let your voice be heard too! Emails and calls to your Senators asking them to support Basel ratification could literally turn the tide.
Sage Sustainable Electronics leads the market in sustainable IT asset management and disposition (ITAD) by reusing more and recycling less. Every year, businesses retire millions of used-but-still-useful technology products, creating the fastest growing business and consumer waste stream in the world. We strategically and passionately help companies reuse more and recycle less than anyone else in the industry.
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