Most people are trying their best to recycle plastic - but the many different ways in which recycling is collected by councils across the UK has left them confused over what can be recycled and what can't. New plans on how plastic is recycled in England are being put forward by the government. In the rest of the UK, the strategy for recycling is a devolved issue. Each council collects its plastic recycling differently. Around the UK, all four nations are hoping to improve their recycling rates.
By one important measure, California's 30-year-old Beverage Container Recycling program has been a big success. Up until last year, more than 80% of qualifying plastic bottles, glass containers and aluminum cans were returned to recycling centers each year. Billions of bottles and cans that might have otherwise ended up in the state's landfills have found new lives in recycled products. Yet the program is in trouble because the state shortchanged the centers on their subsidies just as the price of scrap material was dropping. A quarter of the state's recycling centers have closed in the last year and half, many of them in rural areas.
The environmental consequences of plastic solid waste are visible in the ever-increasing levels of global plastic pollution both on land and in the oceans. But although there are important economic and environmental incentives for plastics recycling, end-of-life treatment options for plastic solid waste are in practice quite limited. Presorting of plastics before recycling is costly and time-intensive, recycling requires large amounts of energy and often leads to low-quality polymers, and current technologies cannot be applied to many polymeric materials. Recent research points the way toward chemical recycling methods with lower energy requirements, compatibilization of mixed plastic wastes to avoid the need for sorting, and expanding recycling technologies to traditionally nonrecyclable polymers.
Malaysia has become one of the world's biggest plastic importers, taking in rubbish the rest of the world doesn't want. But one small town is paying the price for this - and it is now smothered in 17,000 tonnes of waste. Every night, after the clock struck midnight, Daniel Tay knew exactly what was coming. He would shut his doors, seal his windows and wait for the inevitable. Soon his room would be filled with an acrid smell, like rubber being burned.
A year ago, experts warned that the UK could face a mountain of waste plastic as China imposed a ban on waste imports. In recent years, the UK has heavily relied on China to take our unwanted plastic packaging. Three years ago, the UK was exporting half a million tonnes of plastic to China and Hong Kong - accounting for almost two-thirds of all our plastic sent abroad. China introduced its ban on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries 12 months ago. At the time, the UK recycling industry warned that the decision would be a "game-changer" and that it would be a struggle to deal with the country's waste.