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The dominant position that China holds in globalmanufacturing means that for many years China has also been the largest globalimporter of many types of recyclable materials. Last year, Chinesemanufacturers imported 7.3 million metric tonnes of waste plastics fromdeveloped countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan.

中国在全球制造业处于支配地,这也意味着,多年来中国一直是全球最大的可回收材料进口国。去年,中国从发达国家(包括英国、欧盟、美国和日本)进口了730万吨废塑料。

However, in July China announced big changes in thequality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World TradeOrganisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solidwaste by the end of the year. This campaign against yang laji,  or “foreign garbage”, applies to plastic,textiles and mixed paper. It will result in China taking a lot less material asit replaces imported materials with recycled material collected in its owndomestic market, from its growing middle-class and Western-influencedconsumers.

然而,今年7月,中国宣布将对进口材料的质量控制作出重大调整。中国通知世界贸易组织,今年底将禁止进口24类可回收废品和固体废物。主要针对塑料、纺织品和废杂纸。随着中国中产阶级不断壮大和消费习惯西方化,中国国内市场的回收材料将替代进口材料。这也导致中国进口国外垃圾数量大幅减少。

The impact of this will be far-reaching. China is thedominant market for recycled plastic. There are concerns that much of the wastethat the country currently imports, especially the lower grade materials, willhave nowhere else to go.

这将产生深远的影响。中国是全球再生塑料的主要市场。人们担心,目前中国进口的大部分垃圾,尤其是那些低等级材料,之后将无处可去。

This applies equally to other countries including theEU27, where 87 per cent of the recycled plastic collected was exporteddirectly, or indirectly (via Hong Kong), to China. Japan and the US also relyon China to buy their recycled plastic. Last year, the US exported 1.42 milliontons of scrap plastics, worth an estimated $495m (£373m) to China.

包括欧盟二十七国在内的国家同样面临这种情况,这些国家87%的再生塑料被直接,或者通过香港间接出口到中国。日本和美国的再生塑料也主要出口到中国。去年,美国向中国出口了142万吨的废塑料,总值4.95亿美元。

Plastic problems

塑料危机

So what will happen to the plastic these countriescollect through household recycling systems once the Chinese refuse to acceptit? What are the alternatives?

那么,一旦中国拒绝接受这些国家通过家庭回收系统收集的塑料,将会生什么后果?有别的解决方法吗?

Plastics collected for recycling could go to energyrecovery (incineration). They are, after all, a fossil-fuel based material andburn extremely well – so on a positive note, they could generate electricityand improve energy self-sufficiency.

可以用于能量回收(焚烧)。毕竟,塑料的基础材料是化石燃料,燃烧效果非常好——因此,焚烧塑料积极的方面是,可以用来发电,提高能源的自给自足。

They could also go to landfill. This is not ideal –imagine the press headlines. Alternatively, materials could be stored until newmarkets are found. This also brings problems, however – there have beenhundreds of fires at sites where recyclable materials are stored.

也可以送去垃圾填埋场。这种方法不太理想——想象一下媒体的头条吧。还有一种方法,储存起来,寻找新的市场。不过也会带来新的问题——在可回收材料存储地已经发生了数百起火灾。

Time to change our relationship with plastic?

是时候改变人类与塑料制品的关系了吗?

While it is a reliable material, taking many forms fromcling film (surround-wrap) to flexible packaging to rigid materials used inelectronic items, the problems caused by plastic, most notably litter and oceanplastics, are receiving increasing attention.

从柔性包装的保鲜膜,到包装电子产品的硬塑料,塑料都是可靠的包装材料,但塑料包装产生的塑料垃圾和海洋塑料污染,正越来越受到重视。

One way forward might be to limit its functions. Manydisposable items are made from plastic. Some of them are disposable bynecessity for hygiene purposes – for instance, blood bags and other medicalitems – but many others are disposable for convenience.

一种方法是限制其功能。许多一次性物品都是塑料制品。其中一些出于卫生的目的——例如,血液袋和其他医疗用品——但许多一次性用品只是因为方便。

Looking at the consumer side, there are ways of cuttingback on plastic. Limiting the use of plastic bags through financialdisincentives is one initiative that has shown results and brought aboutchanges in consumer behaviour. In France, some disposable plastic items arebanned and in the Britain, leading pub chain JD Wetherspoon has banneddisposable, one-use plastic drinking straws.

在消费者看来,可以减少塑料的使用。通过财务限制来控制塑料袋被证明是有效的,而且还能改变消费者行为。在法国,一些一次性塑料制品被禁止使用,在英国,酒吧连锁店威瑟斯本已经禁止使用一次性塑料吸管。

Deposit and return schemes for plastic bottles (anddrink cans) could also incentivise behaviour. Micro-beads, widely used incosmetics as exfoliants, are now a target as the damage they do becomesincreasingly apparent and the UK Government has announced plans to ban theiruse in some products.

塑料瓶(和饮料罐)的退瓶返钱项目也可以激励环保行为。由于广泛应用于化妆品的微珠,危害越来越明显,英国政府已经宣布禁止在某些产品中使用。

This follows similar actions announced by the US andCanada, with several EU nations, South Korea and New Zealand also planning toimplement bans.

在此之前,美国和加拿大也宣布了类似的行动,一些欧盟国家、韩国和新西兰也计划实施禁令。

Many local authorities collect recycling that is jumbledtogether. But a major side effect of this type of collection is that while itis convenient for the householder, there are high contamination levels whichleads to reduced material quality. This will mean it is either sold for lowerprices into a limited market, will need to be reprocessed through sortingplants, or will be incinerated or put in landfill. But changes to recyclingcollections and reprocessing to improve the quality of materials could beexpensive.

许多地方政府收集垃圾,回收利用。可是这种垃圾收集方式有副作用,虽然对家庭很方便,但污染水平高,垃圾质量下降。这种垃圾要么以低价销售给有限的市场,要么通过分选车间进行分类处理,或者将其焚化或填埋。而再回收、再加工利用的代价不菲。

Alternatively, recycled plastic could be used to providechemicals to the petrochemical sector, fuels to the transport and aviationsectors, food packaging and many other applications.

此外,可回收塑料可用作石化行业的原材料,运输和航空燃料,食品包装等。

The problems we are now facing are caused by China’sglobal dominance in manufacturing and the way many countries have relied on onemarket to solve their waste and recycling problems. The current situationoffers us an opportunity to find new solutions to our waste problem, increasethe proportion of recycled plastic in our own manufactured products, improvethe quality of recovered materials and to use recycled material in new ways.

现在面临的问题是,由于中国在制造业的全球主导地位,许多国家仅依靠中国来解决废品和回收问题。目前形势为我们找到新的废品处理办法,提供了机会,增加我们产品中再生塑料的比例,提高回收材料的质量,并以新的方式使用回收材料。