‘Why don’t we first deal with what’s in our own backyard instead of taking care of other people’s problems?’”. Arnaud Brunet, head of the Bureau of International Recycling, compared the ban to an “earthquake.”. But that all changed in the 1990s when China began buying these motors for a few cents per pound.”. “I don’t know what impact it will have. For one thing, “there are fears that the ban will simply lead to these huge quantities of waste being exported to less-developed, less well-regulated waste industries,” particularly India and the Southeast Asian nations of Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, Greenpeace said in a recent op-ed. But exporters could take easy, cheap and dirty ways out. “It could reduce plastics and other waste, and improve systems of recycling. Today is National Voter Registration Day! Many cities across the U.S. have been sending their once-exportable plastics to landfills, while others are still finding markets for their recycled plastics, though less lucrative ones. “If plastic waste were characterized as waste requiring special consideration, then export could potentially be regulated,” Jambeck and Brooks say. There are, however, “no new waste markets with equivalent capacity to China’s,” the nonprofit added. But last July, China made a bold announcement, notifying the WTO that out of concern for the environment and public health, it would be restricting the imports of certain categories of solid waste. "That move will raise manufacturing costs in China and will be passed along to consumers," Minter added. For decades, other countries shipped containers full of scrap and waste to China for recycling. Those complications should not discourage the recycling industry from retooling, Jambeck says. The study’s authors see China’s shift as an “opportunity” for other nations to create better recycling systems at home. Chinese firms that used to import plastic waste from developed countries have now started investing in recycling operations in the United States, Minter said. It's a $5 billion annual business that is now in danger of sinking. -- Nanlin Fang contributed to this report. Without bold new ideas and management strategies, current recycling rates will no longer be met, and ambitious goals and timelines for future recycling growth will be insurmountable.”. For more than 20 years, China has been the world’s recycling bin, accepting an enormous quantity of recyclable waste from nations worldwide. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- The incredible influx of waste into China also spawned entire towns devoted to recycling, where adults and children alike were often subjected to dangerous working conditions and exposed to toxic chemicals. Germany is the leading exporter of PE (polyethylene) and Japan is the leading exporter of PS (polystyrene). Already, the U.K. and the European Union have unveiled plans to reduce waste ― both partly in reaction to China’s ban. But though China may be amply ready for this shift, many countries have apparently been caught with their pants down. The restrictions have reportedly led to recycling waste piling up in developed countries with nowhere to send it. ", Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost's next chapter, 10 Things You Can Do Now To Reduce Your Plastic Footprint, Register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot today. Earlier this week, a city in the Australian state of Queensland said it would start burying its recyclable waste in landfill because of the spiraling costs contractors were demanding to deal with it. And countries like the U.S., Canada and Britain had more garbage than they knew what to do with, so they willingly sold their trash to China for cheap. China has billed the ban as a way to reduce environmental damage, but some experts say it could make it worse. “Plastic has done incredible things for us as a society and it has an appropriate place,” said Nick Mallos of the Ocean Conservancy.

What we need to remember is to minimize our plastic waste (and really, all waste just generally) ― that includes recyclable plastics and compostable or biodegradable ones too. When China tightened its standards for accepting foreign recycling materials, U.S. cities got stuck having nowhere to send them If they raise the price of recyclables here domestically, it forces other nations to take care of their own waste. Disclaimer. Photograph by Jenna Jambeck, University of Georgia. “I think it is probably going to be harder before it gets easier,” says Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor and National Geographic Explorer who is the co-author of the new study. The move has been characterized as sudden by some media, but China has in fact been signaling its desire to ditch its “world’s recycler” reputation for quite some time. In the longer term though, activists have stressed that there could be many positive effects of the ban. In 2013, the government launched a campaign dubbed Operation Green Fence, which sought to block imports of illegal and low-quality waste. All rights reserved. From an economic perspective, recycling imported waste started to make less and less sense for China as the cost of labor rose steadily and the demand for raw materials fell. Minter, who now lives in Malaysia and writes for Bloomberg, recalled walking into a recycling facility in southern China in 2002 and seeing “an ocean of electric motors” there. “People are asking why we’re processing American waste in the first place. The labor to do it is too expensive,” said Minter, whose family has operated a scrap business in Minnesota for several generations. “These motors piled up in scrapyards and you’d have to pay people to take it off your hands. The U.S. exported 16 million tons of waste to China that year, worth about $5.2 billion. Redesign of plastic products that takes into account what happens to those products at the end of their life will also go a long way toward improving recycling. In 2015, Jambeck published the first comprehensive global count of plastic trash, which concluded between four and 12 million metric tons of plastic slips off the coastlines and into the oceans every year. Hello all. Imports of plastic trash are on the rise in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. “I was absolutely floored,” he said. That means they have to buy new paper pulp and plastic resins, increasing the environmental toll of their operations, according to Minter. Note: Does not include imports for Hong Kong and Macao. In 2016, China processed at least half of the world’s exports of waste plastic, paper and metals. But Beijing stunned the recycling industry last year with its ban on imports of 24 varieties of solid waste. “The burning will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and release cancer-causing dioxins,” among other problems, he noted. As Minter put it, China made clear that it “didn’t want to buy everything anymore, they only wanted to buy the good stuff.” A follow-up initiative called National Sword, which saw customs officials cracking down on such imports, was introduced last year. Recycle 120 billion bottles? In fact, that number referred only to plastic waste that China imported that year. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. China just threw another curveball at the global recycling industry. “In China, they had the labor to sort through this stuff and take it apart.”. China’s withdrawal as the world’s repository for plastic waste also laid bare the notion that all that disposable plastic you conscientiously put into your taxpayer-financed recycling bin was actually being recycled. It has sent “shockwaves” worldwide, said Greenpeace East Asia plastics campaigner Liu Hua. “Single-stream recycling gave us more quantity, but less quality and has made recycling operations, in general, less economically viable, for some time,” Jambeck says. The study’s authors also call for wealthier nations that exported plastic trash to remake and expand recycling markets at home and face up to the fact that present plastic recycling methods are unsustainable, given the amount of plastic waste that is generated yearly. “We could say the China ban is a double-edged sword,” he said. Most stock quote data provided by BATS. But Apple doesn’t tell you just how little of that iPhone actually gets recycled,” said Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in The Billion-Dollar Trash Trade. Here's Why That's Potentially Disastrous. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. In January, China will stop accepting imported plastics for recycling. “There were motors in one corner, cases in another and piles and piles of pure, beautiful cooper. They conclude with a somber warning: “Where will the plastic waste go now? And the exporting countries happily contributed, sending shiploads full of waste to China every year. “The problem is, it’s really hard to crack open the steel case. Every part of the motor was being recycled. No and absolutely not. The country has been the “world’s wastebasket” for decades. “We have relied on exporting plastic recycling to China for 20 years and now people do not know what is going to happen,” Simon Ellin, chief executive of The Recycling Association in the U.K., told The Guardian, adding that plastic waste had already started to pile up in recyclers’ yards. How did China end up as the world’s largest buyer of plastic trash? They also suggest importers could tax plastic waste, to create enough funding to construct solid waste management infrastructure to handle it. On Jan. 1, China made good on its promise to close its borders to several types of imported waste. Sources of China's plastic waste imports, millions of metric tons, 2016. In the U.S., a recycler in Oregon told The New York Times this week that his inventory had gone “out of control” since the year began.

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