Welcome to Scrap Collector, Waste Dive's Friday round-up of insights and stories you may have missed during the week.
The U.S. generates far more waste than any other country in the world, according to new research from UK global risk firm Verisk Maplecroft.
The report, which measures the waste generation and recycling performance of 194 countries, determines that over 2.1 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) are produced globally each year — enough to fill 822,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Only 16% of this is recycled annually, and nearly half (950 million metric tons) is disposed of "unsustainably."
The U.S. — the largest contributor per capita to global MSW, plastic, food and hazardous waste production — emerges as the foremost culprit in this bleak landscape. The country, which makes up just 4% of the global population, generates 12% of the world's MSW (approximately 239 million metric tons). China, in contrast, holds 18% of the world's population — while only producing 15% of global MSW.
Massive U.S. consumption and waste generation rates, according to the report, are accompanied by the country's "lack of commitment to offsetting its waste footprint." The U.S. — which, according to 2015 EPA data, recycles just 35% of its MSW — is "the only developed nation whose waste generation outstrips its ability to recycle, underscoring a shortage of political will and investment in infrastructure," the authors conclude.
This "seeming lack of resolve to deal with waste domestically" may become an increasing dilemma in the face of scrap import bans imposed by China and other developing nations, the report notes.
"The waste bans in China and [Southeast] Asia have really shown up infrastructure failings in North America and Europe — it was all too easy to export the problem and neglect domestic infrastructure," co-authors Niall Smith and William Nichols told Waste Dive in an email.
"Now, these countries face a choice: the first option is large scale investment in waste management and working with companies to develop effective replacements and circular economy solutions," they added. "The second is finding new destinations for waste exports. Our research shows that this latter option is hugely risky — exports will likely end up in countries less able to manage large influxes of waste, which will mean more soil pollution, water pollution and waste in the ocean."
Peter Jones, co-author of a 2017 global recycling report by Eunomia and the European Environment Bureau, noted that while market changes have spurred U.S. municipalities to rethink and scale back their recycling services, Europe — which has both binding recycling targets and high disposal costs — has taken a somewhat different approach.
"The European Commission is introducing extended producer responsibility requirements that give producers the responsibility for the cost of managing the waste that results from their products/packaging. There's also a push for greater clarity about the proportion of material collected for recycling that actually gets recycled," he told Waste Dive via email.
"It seems likely that this may result in a reduction in the use of non-recyclable packaging, and an increase in investment in reprocessing infrastructure to enable the material to be pressed back into service," he added. "However, with different incentives in play in the U.S., the outcome of the tightening export market is relatively unlikely to be the same without a significant policy shift."
AROUND THE WORLD
Single-use shame— WBUR
Fail to bring your own bag to East West Market in Vancouver, British Columbia, and you might find yourself attracting some clutched pearls as you head down the street with your groceries.
That's the idea behind store owner David Kwen's instantly legendary single-use plastics scheme. In an effort to steer his customers away from single-use bags, Kwen implemented a 5-cent fee — and imbued his store's bags with slogans such as "Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium," "Wart Ointment Wholesale" and "The Colon Care Co-Op" (accompanied by smaller text reading "Avoid the shame. Bring a reusable bag").
A seemingly foolproof plan — and one that's backfired somewhat spectacularly. Demand for East West Market bags has sailed, with customers shelving out nickel after nickel for each cringe-inducing design.
Kwen, however, is taking the bags' unexpected popularity in stride.
"The underlying thing is that it creates conversation, and that's what we actually wanted to get across to the general public," he told WBUR.
Protests halt proposed incinerator project in south-central China — South China Morning Post
Following days of protests, the city of Wuhan in south-central China has assured local residents that a controversial incinerator project will "not start without approval from the public."
Thousands took to the streets in opposition to the proposed plant, which was tentatively slated to be constructed on a former landfill site.
"We understand the need to dispose of garbage in an environmentally friendly way, but does it have to be that close to our homes? Two universities and more than 10 residential areas are within a 3 km radius," one protestor told South China Morning Post.
Similar anti-incinerator protests have sprung up in recent years in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other major Chinese cities — leaving authorities to simultaneously navigate public pressure and China's rapidly accelerating waste production. The government announced a pilot program to create "waste-free cities" at the beginning of the year, and it's also adopted a plan to establish a standard waste sorting system by 2020 — with a target for 46 major cities to achieve a 35% recycling rate by that time.
SEEN & HEARD
They played, they won & now they're celebrating! The #USWNT will be honored with a ticker tape parade! DYK DSNY will be there for the clean-up, with— NYC Sanitation (@NYCSanitation) July 9, 2019
• 350 Sanitation Workers
• 130 backpack blowers
• 130 hand brooms & more!
Now, see how we collected 30 tons at the 2015 parade! pic.twitter.com/Ug79G2I7zw
I really don’t have the time right now to do a full thread annotating my coauthor and dear friend @kmoneill2530's piece on linking waste and climate change, but I'm glad she's doing this, because water and climate change linkages are more visible and receive more attention. pic.twitter.com/iwtMS0ZzBP— Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) July 11, 2019
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It’s hard to always remember a reusable bag. We redesigned our plastic bags to help you never forget again! || Check out our feature on Global News! Link in bio. . . . . . #plasticpollution #plasticfree #zerowaste #plastic #savetheplanet #sustainability #recycle #ocean #environment #nature #pollution #beatplasticpollution #sustainableliving #saynotoplastic #noplastic #savetheocean #singleuseplastic #oceanconservation #beachcleanup #eco #ecofriendly #plasticocean #trash #reducereuserecycle #plasticpollutes #sustainable #gogreen #breakfreefromplastic #climatechange #bhfyp