As a concerned earthling about the damage plastic is doing to our environment, I religiously collect the very little plastic that comes my way each fortnight and bin them in the one with the yellow lid. Ah yes, I wear my halo and feel good about my small contribution as I watch from my curbside the local council truck disappearing down my street. Smell the freshness of the gum leaves, the world around me is unspoilt and clean.
I tut tut at my Malaysian friends who share their street food photos on Whatsapp. Tsk tsk tsk, I cannot help but annoyingly point out the ubiquitous plastic in their photos. Plastic cups, bowls, plates, chopsticks, even tables and chairs stacked up high like towers ready for the next hordes of hungry patrons. They even shared videos of how plastic rice, eggs and seaweed are served to the eager consumers. Yesterday, they dropped a bombshell. My beautiful imagined world of “do the right thing” turned out to be fake, plastic one could say. They shared reports of 60 Minutes’ expose’ of Australia’s recycling lie. Urghhlings. Since China stopped all imports of plastic waste for recycling in January 2018, other countries have stepped up and bought plastic rubbish from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, in the name of recycling. One such country is Malaysia where dozens of illegal processing sites “recycle” by dumping, burying or burning. My world may still be clean and the gum leaves may still soothe my nostrils, but I am devastated that those in many parts of Malaysia are thrashed by our rubbish. Curbside recycling gave me a clean conscience, I do my little bit to reduce my carbon footprint, the rest I leave to the city council and governments, both state and national, to sort out the mess. I did not realise that plastic recycling to them meant recycling plastic trash from country to country. Now that China and the other Asian countries have figured out sorting out other countries’ rubbish is not worth the damage to their own environment, Australia will have to find other ways of hiding their plastic waste or finding new ways of using their wastes. It seems apparent to me that instead of focusing on recycling, the authorities may be more effective by selling the message of reducing usage, in other words, reducing packaging. Alternatives such as paper bags and cotton bags may not be the solution though. According to a British government study, we have to use a paper bag three times or a cotton bag one hundred and thirty one times, to gain a net benefit of contributing fewer carbon emissions once the effect of producing the bag is taken into account. Why did we change our ways? Why did we not continue to follow our forefathers, they used rattan baskets and wrapped their shopping in old newspapers tied up with string. Let us go back to bringing our own multi-tiered enamel metal food containers rather than the takeaway plastic food cartons used by restaurants. Alternatively, have our food wrapped in banana leaves instead of plastic bags. Olden day methods were so sensible and practical, yet we abandoned such eco-friendly practices. Why? Waitrose in the UK have started a “bring your own container” trial that encourages their customers to buy and refill without plastic packaging. The Waitrose Unpacked trial offers savings of 15% to consumers; the environment may hopefully be the bigger winner.