Recycling is a misunderstood word. People often associate it as a positive action, with beneficial results for society. However, race-to-the bottom globalization of the waste trade has resulted in a situation where recycling is often not a service actually provided by global north countries, but something outsourced to the global south. Countries ship their waste 1000s of miles to be processed with no accountability or transparency as to ‘what these recycling processes’ consist of. Oftentimes, these processes are little more than backyard and/or informal operations in places with nonexistent environmental and labor law enforcement, that damage both the environment and the health of the workers (especially when processing plastics and e-waste, as workers really have no awareness of the chemical dangers of these materials). In this case in Indonesia, containers are marked as ‘recycling’ but really contain mixed waste. This intentionally-deceptive trade is happening more and more frequently now that China has stopped taking the world’s waste/recycling. Global north countries can afford to send the containers, and there is always someone in lax governance countries to take the bribe. In Sri Lanka, recently even hospital waste was found hidden within ‘recycling’ waste containers. I think that for materials to be truly ‘recyclable’ there needs to be means to process the materials within a 100mi radius, for instance, to make the processes accountable, to keep resources circulating within a bioregion, to minimize carbon footprints of transport, and to facilitate the materials awareness needed to minimize and eliminate toxic waste streams and replace with regenerative and nontoxic materials. There is no away, and acknowledging this opens up a window of opportunity to transform a broken system with creative, local responses for resource/materials accountability.
Follow more of Stiv’s work here at The Story of Plastic: https://www.storyofplastic.org/