Innumeracy in journalism

China’s ban on importing millions of tonnes of plastic waste is already causing a build up of rubbish at recycling plants around the UK, experts have warned.

The decision, which means that half a billion tons of the toxic substance could be burned in Britain rather than exported is predicted to bring chaos for councils in the weeks ahead.

Not that people have to know this of course. But it is useful for a journalist to have a rough idea of relative numbers and sizes. Plastics consumption (or, perhaps, use then throw away) is of the order of 300 million tonnes a year globally.

It’s really not likely at all that we’ll end up burning 500 million tonnes in the UK alone.

Also, plastics aren’t toxic, that’s rather the point of them. Their combustion products, if not combusted properly, can be, but it is very much the point of plastics that they don’t in fact poison us.

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the UK Recycling Association, said his members had already seen lower grade plastics piling up and warned urgent action was needed.

“You can already see the impact if you walk round some of our members’ yards,” he said.

“Plastic is building up and if you were to go around those yards in a couple of months’ time the situation would be even worse.”

The leaders of the UK’s recycling industry admitted that they have “no idea” how to cope as China’s policy came into force on January 1.

But on to the much more important point. There’s no use for this stuff, is there? That’s why it’s piling up.

So, why in fuck are we recycling it?

13 thoughts on “Innumeracy in journalism”

  1. I used to work for a company that would grind up old plastic and then use the grounds to make the heavy black bases of road cones. It’s dense, dyed black and the finish isn’t great so rough utilitarian applications suit it.. Similar products were temporary speed bumps and bollards. But there was way more scrap available than uses for it.
    It depended on the nature of the plastic, but even 20 years ago the waste was going for £40 per tonne instead of £1000 per tonne for virgin stuff..

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    Actually I think I have a fleece somewhere that is recycled plastic. I suspect we use a lot more than we can recycle. World production of polyethylene terephthalate is about 55 million tons. What do you do with that many fleeces? I suppose you could clad every high rise in the UK …..

    So why not recycle it in Drax? All it needs is a high enough temperature and there must be some calorific value in burning it.

    If not that, just let it pile up. There are bacteria that will break down polyethylene and the like. If you wait long enough. There are insect species that will eat it. The Indian mealbug for instance. You could let the larvae eat to their heart’s content and then feed them to chickens. Seems a solution.

    The point is, I guess, that it is not economically worth it. Bury it. Leave it for someone who cares.

  3. You just bury the stuff in landfill, it’s inert so what’s the problem? Unfortunately the landfill tax means this can’t happen economically, so we now have a plastics “crisis”, caused by government.

  4. Burn it. Mankind expends huge effort in recovering hydocarbons from under the ground and then we expend huge effort in reburying some. It’s insane. High temperature modern waste-to-energy plants will turn it all cleanly into electricity. There is no actual problem

  5. I remember some chemist decades ago talking about oil saying something like: burning oil is madness, it should be used to make plastics, and *then* burned so it’s used at least twice.

  6. The EU’s twisted fetish against landfill is the issue here–as with all the “recycling” nonsense.

    The point of getting out is to tell them to shove their eco-freak bullshit along with the rest of their tinpot tyranny.

    But we have the Fish Faced Cow on our team so…

  7. he leaders of the UK’s recycling industry admitted that they have “no idea” how to cope

    Here’s some money.

    Hey, leaders have an idea of how to solve it…

  8. “The EU’s twisted fetish against landfill is the issue here”

    IIRC, Lomborg calculated that the UK has 8 cubic kilometres of landfill space – more than enough for 150(?) years.

  9. ‘So, why in fuck are we recycling it?’

    You’re not. You are just piling it up. But, yes, the recycling dance is just Kabuki theater.

    It makes sense to recycle that which is rare or expensive – plastic is neither.

    In another thread, he have the issue of involuntary servitude – slavery. Yet the government compels people to sort out their plastics and bin them separately. So, slavery is bad if Thu Huong Nguyen makes money, but okay if it is ‘green.’

  10. If you’re interested in plastic recycling, it’s worth finding out how plastics are manufactured & the different sorts of plastics are manufactured & why they’re different. And what’s involved in plastic recycling & the limited uses recycled plastic is suitable for.
    The question – why are there mountains of un-recycled plastic? – answers itself.

  11. I did once consider doing some work on exploiting scrap plastic but decided that it might be hard to compete with the simplicity of people just sending it to China. I also didn’t fancy working on a subject that might be vulnerable to God-knows-what whims of government or quasi-religious harassment by “environmentalists”.

    Personally, I think of them as Enviro Mentalists.

  12. Both Sweden and Hong Kong are short of garbage for their incinerators. Just sell the stuff to someone that wants it.

  13. @Tim W,

    There’s no use for this stuff, is there? That’s why it’s piling up.

    So, why are we recycling it?

    Exactly. My 77 year old mother knows this too. Same applies to glass, paper, cardboard, batteries (exc Lead-Acid), CFLs and more.

    The Fleece jackets/clothes made from recycled PET(?) has now gone full circle – Fleece is evil polluter, washing a jacket releases millions of tiny plastic fibres into the oceans.

    On the UK’s 500 million tonnes pa, I doubted it by visualising >50 million 40ft containers being shipped to China – didn’t seem plausible.

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