China No 1 dumper of plastic into ocean

Updated: 2015-02-19 12:21

By Niu Yue in New York(China Daily USA)

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Over three quarters of waste is not properly processed: report

With more than three quarters of waste going inadequately processed in China, the world's most populous country is now the world's No 1 dumper of plastic into the sea, according to research published in Science.

Eight researchers from seven US universities and institutions estimated the annual input of plastic into the ocean from waste caused by costal populations in 192 costal countries in 2010. They also used population growth data to project the increase of plastic waste in 2025.

China, with a costal population of 262.9 million, generated 8.82 MMT (million metric tons) of mismanaged plastic waste and 1.32 to 3.53 MMT plastic marine debris in 2010, followed by Indonesia with 3.22 MMT and the Philippines with 1.88 MMT.

"Total annual waste generation is mostly a function of population size," the paper said. "However, the percentage of mismanaged waste is also important when assessing the largest contributors of waste that is available to enter the environment."

The mismanagement rate of waste of China is 76 percent, lower than Indonesia and the Philippines (both 83 percent) but significantly higher than the average rate of 68 percent and that of the United States (2 percent), Brazil (11 percent) and Turkey (18 percent).

Plastic debris in the ocean harms wildlife and their habitats, degrades beaches and hurts tourism, said Nicholas Mallos director of Trash Free Seas with the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental organization that is partnering with environmental groups in China.

Among the top 20 contributing countries to plastic marine debris in 2010, the United States generated the most plastic waste per capita per person per day (2.58 kilograms), but thanks to its low mismanagement rate, only 0.04 to 0.11 million tons of marine plastic debris was generated.

In the worst scenario, the paper predicts there will be around 10 times more plastic debris in the ocean by the year 2025, and China will still be contributing around 25 percent of marine plastic pollution.

"(The amount of debris) is going up ever year, and it is really much, much worse now than it was before," said Lisa Christensen, founder of Hong Kong Cleanup, an environmental campaign to clean up the shore.

Most of the plastic produced is actually recyclable, said Mallos."There are mismatches of the waste generated versus the capacity available to manage that waste," he said.

"We see a similar trend in many fast developing economies."

China has been making progress in combating ocean pollution. "It is getting better and better here, and the government is paying increasing attention," said Meng Jiaye, secretary general of Blue Ribbon, an environmental group in Sanya, a popular ocean resort.

The organization has been working with the local government to raise awareness among local populations, advocating recycling and checking sewage pipes. Now, most of the debris is collected in time.

"Ten years ago when there were not so many infrastructures like dustbins and less public awareness, things are much more serious," he said. Now, most plastic bottles will be collected.

"No single entity can address the problem," said Mallos, as more comprehensive and long-term solutions are required, including better collection systems.

"This is a throw-away society here in Hong Kong and other parts of China. People are just getting richer and richer, and just throwing stuff away," said Christensen, who has called for a total change in people's consumption habits.

According to the China Scrap Plastics Association, only 30 percent of plastic scrap can be recycled in China, and the number in 2010 was only 20 percent.

Lu Huiquan in New York contributed to this story.