American waste management companies stop exporting plastic waste

Several waste management companies in the US have responded to a Greenpeace USA initiative by announcing that they are no longer exporting plastic waste outside of North America. The environmental group is now calling for an end to single-use plastic in the US.

Waste management companies across the US have stated that they are no longer exporting plastic waste to countries outside of North America, according to a Greenpeace USA press release. These include two major American waste management companies, Waste Management and Casella Waste Systems.

The announcement was made in respond to a Greenpeace USA campaign urging companies to stop exporting plastic waste due to the social and environmental harm to receiving countries.

“Waste management companies should not be exporting plastic waste for other countries to clean up our mess,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans campaign director John Hocevar. “The US is offloading plastic onto countries with poor waste management in hopes of pushing our pollution crisis out of sight, but this only shifts the burden to others that lack the capacity to deal with it.”

While Greenpeace USA welcomes the announcement, it wants to see the companies go even further. “Landfills, incineration, or other plastics-to-fuel technologies are not the solution. It’s time to stop making so much single-use plastic,” Hocevar said.

In 2018 alone, the US exported 1.1 billion kilograms of plastic waste, with 78% landing in regions with poor waste management systems, including Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

“These countries have served as dumping grounds for the world’s plastic waste, then are named as the largest contributors to ocean plastic pollution,” writes Greenpeace. What’s more, the import of cheap, subsidized plastic waste from the US has acted as a disincentive to investing in and creating domestic collection systems for their own plastic waste.

“Actions to find markets for discarded plastic materials collected in US communities should not negatively impact communities in other countries,” said Jan Dell, independent engineer and founder of The Last Beach Cleanup. “These countries need our support to stop plastic pollution, not our plastic waste.”

A recent Greenpeace investigation found that US plastic waste exports increased significantly to several countries, mostly in Southeast Asia, following China’s ban on foreign waste. Since then, countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia have begun to put measures in place to halt this influx of waste, including sending it back. For example, container ships have already begun to arrive in the US with rejected single-use plastic from Indonesia.

Image credit: Christian Haugen via Flickr

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