WHY PLASTIC RECYCLING IS NOT THE SOLUTION

Plastic recycling problems, an unpopular topic, yet something that needs to be addressed. Plastic waste may triple by 2060. Recycling is essential, but not easy. Even though nowadays many companies proudly present their recycled packaging, plastic recycling has many problems. In this blog we briefly explain you why plastic recycling is not the (best) solution. This is a complicated topic, which could be explained in multiple blogs/articles from different points of view. We tried to keep it short and simple.

PLASTIC RECYCLING PROBLEMS 

  • Poor working conditions. Most developed countries that are into plastic recycling do not do the job themselves. China used to be the main importing country of plastic waste, until the country announced an unprecedented ban on its import of most plastic waste. This resulted in a change in global plastic waste trade flow. Since then, most European countries transport plastic waste to Turkey, where it is recycled in factories. Unfortunately, many of these factories do not care about labour circumstances or environmental care.

In a recent Human Rights Watch report, it stated: “‘It’s as If They’re Poisoning Us’: The Health Impacts of Plastic Recycling in Turkey,” documents the consequences of the Turkish government’s ineffective response to the health and environmental impacts of plastic recycling on the right to health. Air pollutants and toxins emitted from recycling affect workers, including children, and people living near recycling facilities.

  • Recycling stream is not clean. Non-recyclable materials being put in the recycling stream (such as liquids or plastic bags) that contaminate recyclable materials. A big part of recycled plastic is of inferior quality. The process of recycling is in fact often downcycling (read more).
  • Plastic recycling is neither economical, nor (very) sustainable. Recycled plastic sometimes costs more than new plastic because collecting, sorting, transporting, and reprocessing plastic waste is expensive. Even though recycling is better than landfill or incineration, but recycling in itself is not the most sustainable process. Lots of energy is needed for the process.

REFILL BEFORE RECYCLING

Recycling techniques must be improved and the chain should be beter inspected. But most of all we must reduce and discourage the consumption of plastics. Refilling is better than recycling! Check our post on The Zero Waste Hierarchy.

REFILLME: A NEW REFILL PROJECT IN MYANMAR

Can you get a water refill in Myanmar? Yes you can! Today we want to inform you about a promising new refill project, situated in Yangon, Myanmar. Last year, three ambitious students founded RefillMe. Starting small, dreaming big. We just met and immediately became fans. Sit back and enjoy our interview with Haling Min Aung, co-founder of RefillMe.

INTERVIEW WITH HALING MIN AUNG, REFILLME (YANGON, MYANMAR)

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your role at Refill Me Yangon?

Mingalarpar! My name is Haling Min Aung. I work in Earth Day Network Myanmar as an assistant manager, while also managing communications at RefillMe. Furthermore I am an activist educator in Yangon. I strongly believe that climate change should be taught in every school as the future of our Earth depends on our ability to take action.

Mingalarpar (what an amazing way to say hello)! Why and when did you start this project?

After completing an environmental studies program from the University of Yangon, we decided to tackle environmental issues in Myanmar by initiating projects. We initiated the first one, RefillMe, in November 2019.

So you already completed the first half year. We’ll talk more about the project soon. But first: who are ‘we’? Can you tell something about the team?

Sure! Other team members are my classmates from the environmental studies program. My teammate Aung Pyi Soe coordinates the RefillMe project and fellow teammate Ye Myo Zaw conducts the refill pilot in Yangon.

The RefillMe team

That’s nice. Many environmental projects (including Refill Ambassadors) start with only one advocate, and RefillMe already has three. What did you do with the refill pilot in Myanmar? How did it go so far?

The refill pilot is carried out to address issues and challenges faced during the registration process of public refill stations. It is successfully done in two townships of Yangon by using observational study as a means for gathering information. Currently, we are working together with Thant Myanmar to map Yangon (Thant Myanmar is a non-profit organisation, aiming to reduce the use and dependency on single-use plastics).

Very smart, we highly recommend people to team up with other NGO’s and (local) action groups. Together, we can create more awareness. What kind of bottles do people use when they refill in Myanmar?

Refillers use aluminium bottles, stainless steel bottles and polycarbonate bottles. Reusing PET bottles is also common in Myanmar.

TAP WATER IN MYANMAR

Mmm, just like we do in the Netherlands. Here we drink directly from the tap. How is tap water quality in Myanmar? Do local people drink tap water? Or do you drink with filters?

There is strict regulation for water quality that is supplied, however water quality varies from region to region. Factors like flooding, lack of safe water storage, old infrastructures and pipes affect the water quality. That is why people don’t drink right out of the tap. Households use filter or boil the water for consumption.

Water ATM, Yangon

Good to know. Another question: is there plastic deposit on plastic bottles in Myanmar? How is the plastic recycling infrastructure?

To our knowledge, there is no formal plastic deposit on bottles in Myanmar but you can get some cash back by selling plastic bottles to waste collectors. Recycling activities in Myanmar are carried out mostly by the informal sector, which includes scavengers, waste collectors, and waste dealers. These scavengers and waste collectors collect recyclable materials such as newspapers, books, cardboards, metal, plastic bottles, tin and glass from households, commercial areas and streets and in turn sell these items to waste dealers who clean and sell them to the recycling industry both locally and for export. We also have local plastic recycling start-ups and NGOs.

That sounds a bit chaotic but it can work. We think avoiding and reducing single-use plastics is better than recycling, but plastic-recycling can be useful to create new materials. And some people make a living out of it. We are curious to learn more about these recycling start-ups. And of course, to learn more about RefillMe, but we won’t steal any more time. Last question: what are your next steps?

We plan to look for new partners to facilitate our project expansion. RefillMe is more than just adding stations to reduce plastic consumption. Our team is using a more holistic approach to consider things like water quality, accessibility, affordability, and aesthetics which can help us accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 in Myanmar (clean water and sanitation). We dream about going beyond RefillMe project. Currently, we are working hard to launch two new projects in August.

Thank you so much Aung, we’re looking forward to hear more from you and your team!

STAY UP TO DATE ON REFILLME

Want to know more about RefillMe? Follow RefillMe on facebook or leave your message below. And if you happen to visit Myanmar, bring your empty bottle and pay attention to the refill stations. Join the #refillution!

All images in this blogs are provided by RefillMe.

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