Muzaffarnagar: Final destination for tonnes of America's plastic waste
Author: K Oanh Ha
Muzaffarnagar, a city about 80 miles north of New Delhi, is famous in India for two things: Colonial-era freedom fighters who helped drive out the British and the production of jaggery. Less likely to feature in tourism guides is Muzaffarnagar’s new status as the final destination for tonnes of supposedly recycled American plastic. Most ubiquitous of all were Amazon.com shipping envelopes thrown out by US and Canadian consumers some 7,000 miles away. An up-close look at the piles also turned up countless examples of the three arrows that form the recycling logo, while some plastic packages had messages such as ‘Recycle Me’ written across them. Plastic that enters the recycling system in North America isn’t supposed to end up in India, which has since 2019 banned almost all imports of plastic waste. It’s a system that’s supposed to cut pollution, spare landfills and give valuable materials a second life. But in Muzaffarnagar the failures are hard to miss. The region’s other major industry is paper production, with more than 30 mills dotted among the furnaces for making jaggery. Paper factories in India often rely on impod waste paper, which is cheaper than wood pulp. The nation’s papermakers need to import around 6 million tonnes (mt) annually to meet demand, and most of it comes from North America.