Europe today has a problem that could one day be a problem for the Philippines and most other countries in today’s fast modernizing world.
For years, European nations generating millions of tons of garbage, mostly plastics, paper, and textiles, were able to ship these materials in China, which had several recycling companies in the business of processing the imported trash into usable raw materials.
In 2016, the European Union (EU) was exporting half of its collected plastic trash, with 85 percent going to China. Ireland sent 95 percent of its plastic waste to China. Next to Ireland, the biggest exporters of plastics were Estonia, Germany, Britain, Denmark, France, Spain, and Belgium.
Last July, 2017, China announced that it had decided to stop importing recyclable trash from other countries and the ban came into force six months later – on January 1, 2018. This was because of the impurities in the wastes that were polluting China’s environment. The ban moved the “catastrophic environmental problem” to the formerly exporting nations of Europe as they started resorting to incineration and landfills.
The European Union, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, has now proposed to ban plastic products such as cotton buds, straws for drinks, and stirrers. The proposal has been criticized as too little, too late.
For decades now, plastic trash has been dumped in the world’s oceans. “More and more, it is becoming a health problem because it is degrading, going to little chips, fish are eating it, and it is coming back to our dinner table,“ European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said. The commission is now considering imposing environment taxes – a levy on the production of polluting plastics.
The European Parliament and the European nations have reached an agreement to set a legally binding target for the nations to recycle 55 percent of plastic packaging waste by 2030. EU regulators also want plastic packaging to be fully recyclable.
We in the Philippines have not quite reached this current state of worry and concern in the European nations but we should start taking our own steps to lower our use of and dependence on plastic consumer goods. We have so many that we see everywhere – plastic bags to carry all manner of goods in our markets, plastic spoons and forks in fast-food outlets, plastic bottles for cosmetics and medicine and other goods, housing materials and furniture, vehicle bodies, TV sets and computers, etc.
Before we reach the state of desperation that the European nations are now experiencing, we should start looking at our own widespread use of plastics and start going back to our old materials which we have in abundance – buri bags, cotton, ramie, piña, and jusi cloth, abaca rope, etc. And our scientists can focus on research to produce plastic that is biodegradable.