Sustainable Scotland
Sustainable Scotland

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Sustainable Scotland

4 Global trade in recycling

Let's look now at the global trade in recycling. Scotland is connected to the wider world by what it discards in a number of interesting ways. For example, a Clyde-built ship is likely to find its way to the Bay of Bengal to be dismantled.

Another example is the EU-led UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] that are an attempt to ensure the safe disposal of electrical waste. Research has found that this has led to concerns about the market for electrical waste in majority world countries created in part by the legislation. Hand-sorting of potentially hazardous electrical waste by some of the poorest people(s) in the world remains a problem for human and environmental health in the majority world.

Our waste connects us with the world. One of the most interesting examples is paper. Recycled paper from Scotland often finds itself baled and transported to China. Here it is made into packaging, packaging that wraps many of the consumer goods that we purchase in the shops in this country.

Activity 6

You can find out more about the human and environmental cost of these waste practices in Greenpeace's report on breaking ships, as well as Greenpeace's reports on electronic waste. And if you're really interested you can find out exactly how large the demand for recycled paper is in China through the report, 'Environmental aspects of China's papermaking fiber supply' from the Forest Trends website.

Read the articles and make notes on what you've read.

The global trade in recycled paper is linked to the demand for goods. The collapse of various banks and credit markets in autumn 2008 led to decreased consumer confidence. Reduced consumer demand leads to less production, fewer products. Fewer products means less packaging — less packaging means less demand for recycled paper.

Smith (2008) writes about the effects that this collapse had on local authorities in the UK, while Branigan (2009) presents a more general overview of the effects of global economic changes on recycling.

Activity 7

Think about the following issues:

  1. 1 The links between local environmental projects like GREAN (Golspie Recycling and Environmental Action Network, or any projects you are involved and/or interested in, and the global trade in recyclable materials.
  2. 2 The links between your everyday consumption and the global recyclables trade.
  3. 3 The appropriate scale for the reuse and recycling of products — just how sustainable is it to transport such goods around the world?
  4. 4 What effect does the unregulated hand-sorting of our waste have on communities in the majority world?

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