To be healthy, it’s often more important to treat the cause than the symptoms – even if doing so includes a level of pain.
Such is the logic behind the inclusion of Li Ganjie in a list of ocean cleanup heroes.
While it’s difficult to know exactly who is responsible for decisions within the Chinese political system, Li has been the Minister responsible for the environment during one of the biggest shifts in global recycling policy in recent memory. The country caused serious concern last year when it abruptly announced that it would stop importing recycled plastic waste. Until 2018 it had been the world’s biggest recycler, importing more than 50% of the world’s recycled plastics – rising to 69% of the US’ recycled plastic, and 87% of Japan’s.
Ganjie explained the country had faced serious environmental pollution because of a rapid growth in waste imports, which contained contaminated and at times prohibited materials. Li accepted that the policy could potentially “result in chaos”, but stressed that countries should be required to deal with their own waste.
“Any other foreign country should implement the spirit of the Basel Convention and try to reduce, dispose of and consume the hazardous waste and other garbage they produced, which will be conducive to promoting a global green low-carbon recycling development and building a clean, beautiful world,” Li added in a press conference.
Doug Woodring, plastics expert and the Founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, said Western countries are now “getting hit with the plastics problem that they used to move offshore”, describing China’s action as “the shock the world needed”.
Li may have been the person to spark the international community into the necessary action to save the oceans. An estimated truckload of plastic waste is dumped in the oceans every minute, with experts recognising that it’s simply not enough to develop better technology to remove waste after it enters the oceans – countries must take responsibility for their own waste, and stop dumping so much of it in the first place.
The former head of National Nuclear Safety is also behind tough new goals to tackle air pollution in the country