When we throw items in the recycling bin, our cities collect them, and we don’t see them again. As I have mentioned in other articles, the “recyclables” don’t get sorted and shipped back to the manufacturers for them to reuse for their original purpose. Most of our recyclables are actually shipped to China.
For over 20 years, this system worked fine. We pull our bins to the curb (we thought we were recycling), and we then feel good about helping mother nature. China accepted the world’s trash with low restrictions in order to downcycle the material into something else, and then sell that new product back to us so we can then throw the packaging back into the recycling bin and repeat the cycle.
But in January of last year, China very wisely updated their regulations of what was allowed to come into the country. A particular area that got affected is the recyclable paper and the recyclable plastics. China now increased their standards to limit the contaminants in the product they receive.
Why did this affect the US? Because the whole recycling system depends mainly in three stages:
- Collecting the goods
- Sorting the goods
- Shipping the goods to someone willing to buy them
For a full year after China announced these new regulations to the world, we continued to push our bins out to the curb (most of us not knowing that China bought our recyclables). The city collected them and gave them to a sorting company to sort by type of material. But China started enforcing these regulations and now there are tons of material just sitting in the sorting facilities. This means that the sorting facilities are not selling the scrap material. Which in a nutshell means they are not making money and if they don’t make money there is no reason to offer this service.
The first city to react to these changes was Deltona, FL when they decided to suspend their recycling efforts starting February 1st, 2019 while they figure out how this will affect their cities budget, According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
As of today, I personally don’t even have an idea of how this will all turn out. Maybe the cities will go back to just picking up trash and throwing it all in the landfill. Maybe a billionaire will start opening recycling plants in the US to downcycle all the material that China is no longer accepting.
Either way, by us taking this challenge of reducing our recyclables (without increasing our trash) we will be in a better situation down the road and won’t need to react to changes in another countries’ regulations.
I want to invite you to try to replace one item that is currently thrown in the recycle bin, for an option that is not wasteful.
What item could you replace or stop using this month to reduce your waste impact?