Plastic: Why is plastic waste a problem?

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

Plastic Problem in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the city with the highest waste per capita in the world: 15,516 tonnes of waste is thrown away on a daily basis, with 2,124 tonnes of this waste being plastic. Furthermore, only 11% of plastics are recycled, and this lack of recycling causes serious environmental problems. Whilst the improvement of recycling facilities in Hong Kong would reduce the amount of wasted plastic, the main source of this problem is the excessive usage of single-use plastics, which are creating the bulk of this problem. Therefore, the simplest solution is to tackle the problem at its source: we must reduce the amount that is created and disposed of to create a long-term solution to the plastic waste issue.


Further aggravating Hong Kong’s problem of plastic waste is the Green Fence operation, launched by China in 2013, to prevent the import of unprocessed recyclable materials in the hope that countries would decontaminate their own waste before selling it on to China. Without a proper recycling system, Hong Kong sees its amount of plastic waste increasing in recent years, with just 11% of plastic recycled compared with 32% in 2012.


Plastic Problem Across the World

Hong Kong is not the only place that has a large problem with plastic waste. In fact, in Europe, up to $630 million per year is spent on cleaning up plastic waste. On average, more developed countries tend to generate double or triple the amount of plastic waste than developing countries do. What makes this such a problem is that it affects both land and water. Approximately 80% of ocean plastics come from land-based sources, and 20% from marine. With this, more than half of the plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) come from fishing nets, ropes and lines. Overall, global plastic waste was 275 million tonnes in 2010, which means there is much room for improvement.


How Plastic Affects the Environment

Plastic has especially detrimental environmental impacts in comparison to other waste materials. When plastic is buried in landfill, the absence of sunlight, water and oxygen make it much harder for it to decompose. On top of this, once it eventually decomposes, it leaves toxic components in the environment, which can end up in the ocean or contaminate the natural environment. To make matters worse, plastic is often burned as fuel for fire in poor countries to cook food. This releases toxic chemicals, which, when breathed in, exposes people to toxic fumes. In addition, aquatic creatures can confuse plastics with food and end up choking on and dying from plastic materials such as plastic bags and straws.

The problem of plastic waste is multi-faceted, but many industries have taken on the responsibility of fighting the issue. Check out our next blog post to see just how the hospitality industry is dealing with both the problem of plastic waste and single-use plastic consumption.


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