The UK is Sending Plastic Waste to Low Income Countries

A loophole was created after Britain left the European union that meant it could avoid following the EU directive to ban exporting plastic waste to low income countries that aren’t apart of the OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperations and Development). 

The UK has the second highest rate of plastic consumption per person in the world, and most of this is contaminated plastic or plastic that is harder to recycle. So it gets shipped abroad. 

In 2020 nearly 790,000 tonnes of plastic waste was exported, with only 486,000 tonnes being recycled in the UK.

Some of the top countries exported to include:

Malaysia - In January 2020, the Malaysian government announced that it had sent 42 containers of illegally imported plastic waste back to the UK.

Not counting the fuel and miles needed to do this, the waste that ends up in these countries is rarely recycled, and often ends up in huge dump sites, our water systems or being burned. 

Why this is bad

  • Most of our plastic waste ends up in the ocean, suffocating the wildlife and polluting our water system with micro plastics. Did you know its estimated you take in as much as a credit card size worth of plastic every year just from our water?!
  • The ocean dumps create huge ‘waste islands’ that can be the size of a country! These release toxins into the water and block sunlight and oxygen, creating dead zones. 
  • The plastic is mistaken for food and eaten by sea creatures or birds who then suffocate, fill up on plastic and starve, or pierce an organ and die. 
  • Large bits of plastic can be recovered from the ocean however once it breaks down it is IMPOSSIBLE to recover and just sits in our water system.
  • People living near dumpsites or burning waste are at risk of respiratory issues, headaches, menstruation problems and higher rates of cancer.


How can you help?

  • Cut down on single use plastic - they make up 2/3 of all uk plastic!
  • Reduce wherever possible and shop at food markets and zero waste shops where things are plastic free
  • Use reusable bottles and bags. Better yet if they’re an organic material like hemp!
  • Swap plastic toothbrushes for a more sustainable option like bamboo
  • Eat out less and cook for yourself more to reduce takeout boxes and containers that are contaminated with food and cannot be recycled 
  • Recycle as much as you can! 
  • Wash containers before you put them in recycling 
  • Take off lids and keep the corners attached to cartons/packages as many things smaller than your hand can’t be recycled 
  • Sign petitions to get our government to look into the issue and fix it!
  • Collect soft plastics that can’t be recycled in your home bin and take them to designated recycling areas - some supermarkets collect them now in recycling schemes.
  • Educate yourself on environmental issues!

I havn't been great at these things in the past but a recent trip to Mexico brought up a lot of confronting things for me. The beaches were covered in plastic and rubbish coming in from the ocean, and even in the remote places of the jungle there were water bottles or crisp packets. After seeing this and having a dream about drowning in plastic (not kidding it was horrendous) I made the decision to commit to a more sustainable way of living.

I'll be sharing what I learn as I go!

- E x

Some links i've used in my research and to find out more on this topic …

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