In the last decade, uncontrolled trade in plastic waste has increased and threatened both the environment and public health. Not all heavy producers such as the US or UK (the largest in Europe, generating about 99Kg of plastic waste per person per year) have the means and capacity to process it at home, so they typically sell it to emerging countries. However, these countries lack the infrastructure and capacity to recycle imported trash too. The result is, lots of plastic waste ends up in landfills, is burnt in open air or dumped in the ocean.
The European Commission has just adopted new rules on the export, import and intra-EU shipment of plastic waste. These new rules ban the export of plastic waste from the EU to non-OECD countries, except for clean plastic waste sent for recycling, and impose stricter controls on any transfer.
“In the EU we are taking responsibility for the waste we generate,” said EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius. “This is an important milestone in fighting plastic pollution, transitioning shifting to a circular economy and achieving the aims of the European Green Deal.”
While most economies still tend to operate on the principle of ‘Take, Make and Dispose’, it is increasingly clear that changing consumer behaviours is one of the major ways to reduce waste and feed better recycling processes. Of course, this is not something that can simply be forced on people, since they need to mature a willingness to take up new habits aligned with the circular and zero-waste economy models.
National and local governments are therefore accelerating educational campaigns, seeding practical and simple tips for people to use less and pay more attention to packaging when they buy something, correctly separate waste, or avoid buying goods that cannot be recycled.
While cities invest on the educational side, they need to properly treat current levels of plastic and other municipal waste. Preventing distortions in waste management, including efficient collection and recycling, is crucial for public health and safety, as well as for the environment, so waste operators are working hard to ensure quality of service and at the same time keep costs under control.
As reported by Interreg Europe, a progress towards the digital transformation of waste management is being made. Governments are more and more aware of how digital technologies can enable smarter and more efficient waste collection, help to recover more of the valuable materials present in waste streams, reduce the amounts of raw materials mined or imported, and mitigate environmental and climate impacts.
Implementing IoT-based solutions for waste management can “improve the quality of waste collection, generate efficiency and savings, and add relevant benefits in terms of health, safety and liveability,” explained our CEO Gianni Minetti at Smart City Live 2020 (ondemand version available here).