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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a sweeping ban on single-use plastics in the country by 2021.

The ban includes plastic bags, plates, straws, cutlery, and a wealth of other single-use plastics in one of the most ambitious steps to reduce plastic use and its harmful effects on the environment due to its difficulty to recycle.

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TOPSHOT - Workers operate a machine that compacts recyclable plastics at a recycling facility in the Sham Shui Po district of Hong Kong on July 6, 2018. (Photo by VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP) (Photo credit should read VIVEK PRAKASH/AFP/Getty Images)

When you responsibly toss that water bottle into a recycling bin, you assume that it will be somehow recycled—maybe reborn as a park bench, a fleece jacket, or another water bottle. That reuse cycle was made possible largely due to China. For more than 25 years, recycled bottles and other plastic waste from the West were shipped to China, where they were sorted, cleaned, and turned into plastic pellets, which could be melted and turned into new products. Since 1992, about 45 percent of the world’s plastics sorted for recycling were sent to China—about 106 million metric tons of the stuff, which increased in volume by 800 percent until 2016, when China was receiving about two-thirds of the world’s plastic trash. Up until 2018, China accepted garbage from 43 countries. And then China got sick of taking in our garbage.

In January of 2018, China banned the import of plastic waste. The National Sword policy was created to protect China’s environment. Air and water quality in many parts of the nation have been devastated, first by the initial production of plastics, a petroleum product, and next by the return of all that garbage, much of which couldn’t actually be recycled after all due to contamination issues. The new policy bans 24 types of solid waste, including various plastics and unsorted mixed papers. Many trash exporting countries, including the U.S., Canada, and Australia, objected to the plan, as they now have to be responsible for their own garbage. So what happens now?

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Going Zero Waste/Facebook

You may not think much about what you throw in the garbage over the course of a day — a plastic straw here, some plastic wrap there — but if you’re anything like the average American, you probably produce quite a bit of trash.

Roughly 4.4 pounds, to be exact, which, when added to your fellow citizens’ effluence, adds up to a staggering 250 million tons being thrown out in the U.S. each year — more than any other country in the world. And there’s no sign of a slow-down.

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We cannot escape our plastic problem. Every day, we eat food and buy products that contain or have been packaged in plastic. Now we are starting to learn how that plastic never really leaves us. The first major study of microscopic plastic in drinking water has found widespread contamination of drinking water in cities around the world. With every glass of water we drink, we consume plastic.

Orb Media and a researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health tested drinking water from the taps in major cities on five continents, and found that more than 83 percent — 94 percent in the US — contained microscopic particles of plastic. These particles come from the everyday abrasive wear on carpets, furniture, tires, paints and clothing, as well as from microbeads and the partial degradation of other plastic materials.

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Kenya has enacted the world’s strictest ban on plastic carrier bags. How strict? Violators face fines of up to $38,000 or prison sentences of up to four years for selling, manufacturing or even carrying the offending bag.

The African country is struggling with a massive plastic trash and pollution problem, which has badly damaged the environment, clogging waterways, blocking drainage systems, killing wildlife, and contaminating the meat industry. Over the past 10 years, the government has repeatedly tried to rein in the ubiquitous bags — Kenyans use an estimated 24 million bags a month — but the plastic industry has opposed any attempts to limit the bags, and previous bans have been mired in appeals. Now, after a six-month preparation period, Kenya is serious about going bag-free.

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[DIGEST: USA Today, The Atlantic, Science Daily]

Plastic has long been touted as a wonder material, but its growing environmental impact is becoming too large to ignore.

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[DIGEST: Guardian, UNESCO, PNAS, Economist, BusinessInsider, OceanCons, TrashWheel]

Smaller than the size of Manhattan, Henderson Island is covered by 18 tons of plastic garbage–– the weight of three elephants worth of plastic bags, German bottles, Canadian plastic containers, tarps, toys, New Zealand fishing crates and more from all over the world.

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