A culture of awareness and respect in combination with investment in infrastructure and logistics are essential to a circular economy where materials are recovered for re-use or recycling. Today, the top 5 countries contributing to the world’s “plastic soup” are in East Asia. It is estimated that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand alone are responsible for up to two thirds of plastic waste entering the oceans.
To stem the plastics tide, the EU should start by encouraging East Asian countries to setup or upgrade their waste collection networks with financial or direct infrastructure aid. The EU should also help these countries boost their environmental education, either by creating a special programme or by boosting the work of organisations that are already successfully engaged on that front – such as those involved in the Foundation for Environmental Education’s Eco-Schools programme.
Secondly, the EU should invest significantly in infrastructure for separate collection and recycling here in Europe. More bins in the streets and separate collection would reduce the amount of litter in our public spaces – litter which might make its way into the rivers and seas. It would also increase the amount of materials that are recycled instead of incinerated, thereby making markets for certain recycled materials more financially attractive and economically sustainable.
More and better recycling in Europe would also reduce the amounts of waste that is sent to Asia for “recycling” and that might otherwise also find its way into the world’s oceans.