East Timor, a tiny country of 1.3 million people occupying half the island of Timor just north of Australia, will soon have the distinction of being the first country in the world to recycle all its plastic wastes. It signed last week an agreement with an Australian company to set up a revolutionary recycling plant.
The $40-million plant will ensure that no plastic will become waste in the nation, taking the lead and setting an example for the entire world which is plagued today with growing mountains and floating islands of plastic wastes.
More than 8 million tons of plastics are dumped each year into the world’s oceans, plastics like bottles, bags, packaging for food and medicine, soft drinks straws and stirrers, with China, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand as the top sources. Most plastics, being non-biodegradable, could last up up to 450 years without decomposing. Floating plastic wastes now cover vast areas of ocean surface, posing a danger to sea life which mistake the plastics for food.
The East Timor plant will use chemical technology to turn plastic wastes into liquid or gas that will be used to produce other products. Similar plants are being planned in Canada, Australia, and Britain using the same technology. But East Timor is expected to be the first nation to achieve total waste recycling.
Other ways to recycle plastics are being tried in other parts of the world. In India, plastic wastes are mixed with bitumen and used for road construction. And scientists are continually seeking ways to produce plastics which are biodegradable and, therefore, will decompose like other common household materials like wood and fabrics.
With all the research and studies, plastics will someday cease to be the problem that they are today. And tiny East Timor will have a special place in this worldwide effort. It will be the first nation on earth to recycle all its plastic wastes, setting an example for all other countries, including our own, which are now plagued by wastes of all kinds.