Author : CHAO GUO
University of Sheffield
Much of the UK’s waste is shipped to China and India to be reclaimed. Is this the best way to treat waste? What are the alternatives?
Waste recycling has been a very popular topic over the last decade. The purpose of recycling is to make used materials reusable. There are an increasing number of products produced by recycled materials which has shown that consumers and manufactures are becoming more aware of the benefits that recycling could bring us. However, some people may argue that there are better ways to manage waste such as waste prevention, in which case will reduce the amount of waste produced beforehand as the less produced the fewer needed to be dealt with. In this essay we will be looking at different strategies of dealing with waste and their efficiency, as well as the influences associated with rubbish dumping. Having studied this article we will be able to understand the importance of waste management thoroughly.
It is generally agreed that dumping rubbish overseas is cost-effective and beneficial for UK’s environment, however, there have been many negative impacts raised as the result of rubbish dumping. First of all, from the environmental point of view there are potential risks to the environment in China since sending rubbish to be recycled by Chinese companies. This is largely due to there are very few good factories and the majority of the companies buying waste from the UK are usually small firms, in which case they would take little responsibility towards environmental protection. According to government’s figure which was reported by The Guardian that “exports to China are running at 200,000 tonne of plastic rubbish and 500,000 tonne of paper and cardboard a year” (John Vidal, 2004: The Guardian). Reprocessing such a huge amount of waste could create an enormous amount of carbon dioxide and many other toxic gasses and liquid, which would heavily damage the quality of air and water. Secondly, although dumpling waste costs less for UK’s waste producers but it put waste recyclers who invested in the UK out of business and, likewise disregarded the potential amount of jobs that can be created within the waste recycling industry. Edward Clack, a plastics recycler who invested in two recycling plants in Britain indicated that “it is cheaper to send a container to China than to Scotland” (John Vidal, 2004: The Guardian) and this has reflected some investors’ concerns. However, there are alternative strategies in dealing with waste other than dumping them overseas. Instead of sending waste to China recyclers can get them recycled here in the UK, where a higher standard recycling procedure will be applied. Therefore to reduce the potential pollution associated with recycling to its lowest possible level. This may include the pollution caused by burning or melting different kinds of materials. Recycling will reduce the amount of waste produced for disposal and also saves materials for reproduction. The recycling of paper-based materials has been seen as a very successful example. The drawback of recycling is that it requires energy and water during the transportation and processing stages, as well as extra amount of carbon dioxide will be generated as the result of vehicles used.
On the other hand, we need to encourage reusable products to be produced and distributed to all members of the society. Manufactures should stop producing single use plastic carrier bags which are widely used by retailers in supermarket and stores, as well as reducing unnecessary packaging used. As a replacement, reusable fabric bags should be recommended to all customers due to the fact that plastic bags will take 10 to 20 years minimum or even longer to be dissolved in land. (Zerowaste.co.nz, 2008: Zero Waste New Zealand Trust)
Nevertheless not every product can be reused and for those items can neither be recycled nor reused the only option to treat them is through waste disposal. A very common waste disposal method used in the UK is landfill. “Landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas which is more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide.” (Rachel Nowak, 2007: New Scientist) The advantage of landfill is that methane can be used as biofuel energy. It generates huge amount of electricity every year and made great contribution to the national grid. (Rachel Nowak, 2007: New Scientist) However, the disadvantage is that, as Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas therefore it contributes heavily to global warming. “Landfill can also leak into waterways, for example, and the clean-up costs are huge when land is needed for something else.” (Rachel Nowak, 2007: New Scientist).
Furthermore, having considered every option stated above, it seems that the most important strategy arrives at waste prevention. This is due to the greater amount of waste we generated, the more we have to dispose of. Manufactures should take responsibility to design less wasteful products and producing them in a more environmental friendly manner, for example to produce products by using recycled materials. Environmental harmful materials must not be used such as non-dissolvable plastics.
Last but not least, it is vital that ourselves, as consumers, to produce as fewer waste as possible in our daily lives. Measures include purchasing products which generates less waste and separate household waste so that they will be more easily to be recycled without the effort of re-sorting. Meanwhile, Local authorities such as local councils should provide every household with a more convenient recycling service which encourages everyone to take place in recycling.
Having looked at a variety of strategies in dealing with waste there is no doubt that, the importance of waste management is significant. Instead of shipping waste overseas to be reclaimed it is vital that UK develops its own waste recycling industry as this will not only be beneficial for the environment but also creating more working opportunities for local people. However, it does not matter what methods are used against waste produced. The key point is to awaken everyone’s awareness in protecting our environment. Nowadays it is often believed that environmental conservation and economic development are always in conflict but nevertheless we are discovering new ways to enable sustainable economic growth without damaging the environment at all times. Hopefully in the near future we, or our next generations will be able to enjoy all good things that successful waste management has to offer.
Word Count: 1101
Vidal, J. (2004). The UK’s new rubbish dump: China. The Guardian Retrieved/accessed on 11th February, 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2004/sep/20/environment.china
Nowak, R (2007). Make landfill history. New Scientist
Retrieved/accessed on 13th February, 2008,
Zerowaste.co.nz (2008). Facts and Figures. Retrieved/accessed on 13th February, 2008, http://www.zerowaste.co.nz/default,72.sm;jsessionid=6F58BE462D9526BBDFF684C4D3731CCC