Lies, damned lies, and recycling.
The media story recently quoted here is full of praise for the remarkable levels of plastic recycling (especially of plastic bottles) in Norway. However, the figures in the story don’t seem to make sense. The article states:
“Its success is unarguable – 97% of all plastic drinks bottles in Norway are recycled, 92% to such a high standard that they are turned back into drinks bottles.”
It goes on to say:
“The government places an environmental tax on all producers of plastic bottles. The more they recycle, the more that tax is reduced. If they collectively recycle more than 95% – which they have done every year since 2011 – they do not have to pay the tax.”
It then explains the deposit/refund scheme which provides the incentive for consumers to return all empty bottles to collection points. This seems reasonable – and is just what many countries did, decades ago, with glass bottles.
You would expect, from the above, that a large proportion of new bottles in Norway are made with recycled PET, but it isn’t so. The article says:
“Recycled material only provides 10% of the plastic used in bottles in the country, the rest – because oil is cheap – comes from newly manufactured “virgin” material.”
And goes on to say:
“The system produces enough high-grade material to meet 80% of demand – much of which is currently exported.”
So 90% of plastic used to make new bottles is virgin – and the “recycled” stuff is exported. So to what country is it exported? And what does the recipient do with it? This article from 2105 shows where it goes:
“Export of waste to Sweden has helped us to achieve our national environmental target of 80 percent recycling, says Ellen Hambro from the Environment Directorate.”
And once in Sweden, the plastic is incinerated.
So, it seems that if a country collects and sorts plastics from its waste streams, and then exports it, that is classified as “recycling”. What the recipient country does with that waste does not make any difference to the exporting country’s statistics.
Something that Norway has definitely achieved is a high rate of bottle collection. That is a good thing, and is the first step to ensuring that waste does not find its way into the environment as litter. However, to call it “recycling” is pure sophistry. The waste is clearly not being recycled, it is being incinerated.
I think we need a bit more truth and honesty over what is going on. As people in the forum know, plastic recycling is difficult. We need to acknowledge that, and accept all forms of activity that involve “waste plastic as a resource” as being useful in the fight against pollution – as it all helps to stop plastic entering the wider environment. We need to end the lies that say exported waste equals recycled waste.
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