Have you ever wondered what happens to the plastic you have disposed of them or separated them for recycling? We did a little research to see what happens in Japan.
The Japanese government boasts that 84 percent of the 9 million tons of plastic waste the country generates every year is recycled. It is an impressive number until you investigate what really goes behind. “If close to 90 percent of the plastic waste is recycled, then all of that trash we see in the ocean must come from other countries” you may think. But that is not the case.
Plastic recycling is divided into three categories: material, chemical and thermal. Material recycling reuses the plastic, chemical recycling uses the raw materials for industrial purposes and thermal recycling burns it for energy.
Well then, what is the breakdown of the 84 percent recycling?
Material recycling － 8% (In Japan alone)、15% (exported to countries in South Eastern Asia)
Chemical recycling － 4%。
Thermal recycling － 56%
The remaining 17% is sent to plants for incineration or to landfills.
Source： Plastic Waste Management Institute
From this we clearly understand two things.
For one, only 8 percent is truly recycled in Japan, mostly broken down and made into new products. But most are unaware of this reality.
Then, 60 percent of the 84 percent that is said to be “recycled” is actually incinerated. So why on earth were we separating our plastic waste? What was all that effort for? Plus, burning plastics made from fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
So what about the 15 percent that is exported abroad? Well it is exported to countries in South East Asia with no mechanism to track whether it is truly recycled or ends up burned, in landfills or the ocean.
The Worldwide Plastic Ban.
When will Japan join the game?
Japan is second to the United States when it comes to per-capita consumption of single-use plastic products. Japan’s environment ministry unveiled a goal to reduce the country’s 9.4 million tons of plastic waste a year by 25 percent by 2030. Considering the staggering rise of plastic production every year, isn’t this a proposal too conservative? Why can’t the government take bold action like other countries?
Is it too much to ask the government and corporations to stop producing more and more plastic? Well it is already too much for our oceans. More awareness means more pressure on the government, but also more pressure on ordinary people find a lifestyle that requires less plastic.
What you can do today will be the change of tomorrow.