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Scientists: China’s Ban Causes Plastic To Pile Up, Nations Must Reduce Usage

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances

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Scientists: China's Ban Causes Plastic To Pile Up, Nations Must Reduce Usage
Scientists: China's Ban Causes Plastic To Pile Up, Nations Must Reduce Usage, Pixabay

China’s decision to stop accepting plastic waste from other countries is causing plastic to pile up around the globe, and wealthy countries must find a way to slow the accumulation of one of the most ubiquitous materials on the planet, a group of scientists said.

The scientists sought to quantify the impact of the Chinese import ban on the worldwide trade in plastic waste, and found that other nations might need to find a home for more than 122 million tons (110 million metric tons) of plastic by 2030. The ban went into effect Dec. 31, 2017, and the stockpiling trend figures to worsen, the scientists said.

Wealthy countries such as the United States, Japan and Germany have long sent their plastic recyclables to China, and the country doesn’t want to be the world’s dumping ground for plastic anymore. The study found China has taken more than 116 million tons (105 million metric tons) of the material since 1992, the equivalent of the weight of more than 300 Empire State Buildings.

The change is forcing countries to rethink how they deal with plastic waste. They need to be more selective about what they choose to recycle, and more fastidious about reusing plastics, said Amy Brooks, first author on the study and a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Georgia. In the meantime, Brooks said, more plastic waste is likely to get incinerated or sent to landfills.

“This is a wake-up call. Historically, we’ve been depending on China to take in this recycled waste and now they are saying no,” she said. “That waste has to be managed, and we have to manage it properly.”

plastic cups
plastic cups, Pixabay

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. Using United Nations data, it found that China has dwarfed all other plastics importers, accounting for about 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste since 1992. The ban is part of a larger crackdown on foreign garbage, which is viewed as a threat to health and environment.

Some countries that have seen an increase in plastic waste imports since China’s ban — such as Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia — are already looking to enforce bans of their own because they are quickly becoming overburdened, Brooks said.

The study illustrates that plastic, which has a wide array of uses and formulations, is more difficult to recycle than other materials, such as glass and aluminum, said Sherri Mason, who was not involved in the study and is the chair of the geology and environmental sciences department at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Many consumers attempt to recycle plastic products that can’t ultimately be recycled, Mason said. One solution could be to simplify the variety of plastics used to make products, she said.
“We have to confront this material and our use of it, because so much of it is single use disposable plastic and this is a material that doesn’t go away,” Mason said. “It doesn’t return to the planet the way other materials do.”

The plastics import ban has attracted the attention of the U.S. recycling industry. The National Recycling Coalition said in a statement in mid-May that it must “fundamentally shift how we speak to the public” and “how we collect and process” recyclables.

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“We need to look at new uses for these materials,” said Marjorie Griek, the coalition’s executive director. “And how do you get manufacturers to design a product that is more easily recyclable.” (VOA)

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U.S. Government Launches Wide-Ranging Campaign to Block Chinese Telecom Giant Huawei

U.S. officials cite a number of reasons to treat Huawei with extreme suspicion, some of them well-documented, others less so.

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A staff member stands in front of a Huawei shop in Beijing, China, March 7, 2019. VOA

Over the past several weeks, the U.S. government has launched a seemingly unprecedented campaign to block the Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies from competing in the global rollout of next-generation 5G mobile networking technology, claiming that the company is effectively an arm of the Chinese intelligence services.

In an effort that has included top-level officials from the departments of State, Justice, Defense, Homeland Security, and Commerce, as well as the president himself, the Trump administration has taken steps to curtail Huawei’s ability to operate within the U.S. It has also mounted an extraordinary effort to convince U.S. allies to bar the firm from operating on their soil.

Huawei has long been viewed with suspicion and distrust in many corners of the global economy. The company has a documented history of industrial espionage, and its competitiveness on the global stage has been boosted by massive subsidies from the government in Beijing. Still, the scope of the U.S. government’s current offensive against the company is remarkable.

“Huawei has been accused of many things for a very long time. This is nothing new. What is unique is the extent of the pressure campaign,” said Michael Murphree, assistant professor of International Business at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. “In the grand scheme of international technology competition, this is certainly a very strong effort against a specific firm.”

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At a time when the United States relations with even its closest traditional allies is under strain, Washington’s seemingly unilateral demand that a major global supplier be effectively shut out of an enormous marketplace is an audacious request. VOA

The push to keep Huawei from playing a major role in the rollout of 5G comes at a time when the U.S. and China are in talks to end a costly trade war that the U.S. launched last year with the imposition of tariffs against hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese exports. In another unprecedented move, President Donald Trump has even tied at least one of the government’s actions against Huawei — a federal indictment in which the company’s chief financial officer has been named — as a potential bargaining chip in trade discussions.

A corporate spokesman for Huawei declined to comment on the Trump Administration’s aggressive tactics.

The case against Huawei

U.S. officials cite a number of reasons to treat Huawei with extreme suspicion, some of them well-documented, others less so.

Top of the list is a National Intelligence law passed in China in 2017 that gives government intelligence services broad and open-ended powers to demand the cooperation of businesses operating in China in intelligence gathering efforts. U.S. policymakers argue that this presents an unambiguous threat to national security.

“In America we can’t even get Apple to crack open an iPhone for the FBI,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a March 13 appearance on Fox Business Network. “In China, Huawei has to give the Chinese anything they ask for.” He added, “They should not be in business in America.”

And while Huawei has strongly denied that it operates as an arm of the Chinese intelligence services, at least two recent international espionage cases have come uncomfortably close to the firm.

In January, the Polish government arrested a Huawei executive on charges of spying for China. The company itself has not been charged in the case, and Huawei announced that the employee, a sales manager, had been fired.

Early last year, the French newspaper Le Monde Afrique reported that over the course of several years, the computer systems in the Chinese-financed headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa were secretly transmitting data toservers in Shanghai every night, and that listening devices had been discovered implanted in the building. It was later revealed that the primary supplier of information and communications technology to the project had been Huawei.

No proof has ever been put forward that Huawei was involved in the data theft, and African Union officials have declined to go on the record confirming that the information transfers ever occurred.

One of the most frequent concerns expressed by U.S. officials about Huawei is the least substantiated: the idea that the company could install secret “backdoor” access to communications equipment that would give the Chinese government ready access to sensitive communications, or even enable Beijing to shut down communications in another country at will.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, is shown around the offices of Chinese tech firm Huawei technologies by its President Ren Zhengfei in London during his state visit, Oct. 21, 2015.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, is shown around the offices of Chinese tech firm Huawei technologies by its President Ren Zhengfei in London during his state visit, Oct. 21, 2015. VOA

It’s a claim that Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s 74-year-old founder and president, has personally ridiculed. The government would never make that request, and Huawei would never comply, he told the BBC recently. “Our sales revenues are now hundreds of billions of dollars. We are not going to risk the disgust of our country and our customers all over the world because of something like that. We will lose all our business. I’m not going to take that risk.”

The public battle over Huawei’s image

The sheer number of fronts on which the U.S. federal government is currently engaging with Huawei, sometimes very aggressively, is notable.

The most high-profile of these is a federal indictment of the company naming its Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, in an alleged scheme to deceive U.S. officials in order to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iran. Meng was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. prosecutors, and the Justice Department is seeking her extradition in order to have her face trial in New York. At the same time, a second federal indictment accusing the company of stealing trade secrets, was unsealed in the state of Washington.

It is the Meng case that President Trump has suggested he might use as leverage in ongoing trade talks. Speaking to reporters at the White House last month, he said, “We’re going to be discussing all of that during the course of the next couple of weeks. We’ll be talking to the U.S. attorneys. We’ll be talking to the attorney general. We’ll be making that decision. Right now, it’s not something we’ve discussed.”

There have also been active efforts to dissuade other countries from doing business with Huawei.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned U.S. allies that if they use Huawei telecommunications equipment in their critical infrastructure, they will lose access to some intelligence collected by the United States “If a country adopts this and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them, we won’t be able to work alongside them,” Pompeo said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

On March 8, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany sent a letter to the German minister for economic affairs, reiterating the U.S. government’s concern about the potential for backdoors in Huawei systems and the threat of tampering during complex software updates. He said that U.S. intelligence sharing would be significantly scaled back if Germany uses Huawei products in its new telecommunications systems.

In February, the U.S. government sent a large delegation to MWC Barcelona, the telecommunications industry’s biggest trade show, where they publicly excoriated the company as “duplicitous and deceitful.” The U.S. delegation included officials from the departments of State, Commerce, and Defense, as well as Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. Also there were officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development, who made it clear that foreign aid dollars from the U.S. will not be available to help fund purchases from Chinese telecom firms.

 

In addition, a law signed by President Trump last year bars the federal government from buying equipment from Huawei and smaller Chinese telecom company ZTE. Trump has additionally floated the possibility of an executive order that would block Huawei from any participation at all in U.S 5G networks.

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In addition, a law signed by President Trump last year bars the federal government from buying equipment from Huawei and smaller Chinese telecom company ZTE. VOA

Huawei is fighting back, filing a lawsuit this month that claims it was unfairly banned from U.S. government computer networks. Deng Cheng, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the lawsuit may be aimed at determining what information the U.S. government is using to make its case.

“There is information that the intelligence community may have that isn’t necessarily going to be made public,” he said. “What is admissible in court is not always the same as the information that is actually available. So I’m not really sure how this court case will even be adjudicated.”

Huawei’s lawsuit is likely also partly aimed at improving the firm’s reputation at a time when it is under siege by American officials.

The risk of pushback from China

At a time when the United States relations with even its closest traditional allies is under strain, Washington’s seemingly unilateral demand that a major global supplier be effectively shut out of an enormous marketplace is an audacious request.
For one thing, it is complicated by the fact that for countries and companies anxious to take advantage of 5G wireless technology, there may not be a ready substitute for the Chinese firm.

This seems to be reflected in recent reports that U.S. allies, in Europe, India, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere, are showing real resistance to U.S, demands. A report in the New York Times late Sunday said that in Europe, the general sense is that any risk posed by Huawei is manageable through monitoring and selective use of the company’s products. The story noted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response to the U.S. was a terse message that Germans would be “defining our standards for ourselves.”

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And of course, there is always the possibility — even the likelihood — of Chinese retaliation against countries that accede to the United States’ requests. And in China, where the media is largely controlled by the Communist Party, and access to international news services is sharply limited, that retaliation would likely have widespread public support.

“The very strong perception is that Huawei is a great Chinese company that has done extraordinary things to move to the global frontier, in some respects to the head of the pack, and it is being unfairly treated and held back by the United States for specious reasons,” said Lester Ross, the partner-in-charge of the Beijing office of U.S. law firm Wilmer Hale. (VOA)