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U.S. Plastic Recycling Gets Caught in China’s Big ‘Green Fence’

U.S. Plastic Recycling Gets Caught in China’s Big ‘Green Fence’

Despite all of the proven environmental and economic benefits, the U.S. still doesn’t really care about recycling. Instead of investing in the technologies needed to properly sort and process plastic recyclables here at home, most states simply sell them off to China as scrap.

China recently announced a number of measures aimed at reducing its own carbon emissions, however, and no longer wants to accept our plastic waste. An initiative called Operation Green Fence stipulates that China will no longer accept poorly sorted or dirty shipments of recyclable waste from foreign exporters. As a result multiple states have limited the number of plastic items accepted for recycling, a step in the wrong direction for a country drowning in disposable plastics.

The May 2012 issue of ISRI (The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries) Scrap states that in 2011, the U.S. collected 52.8 million tons of recycling and exported a record-breaking more than 23 million tons. About 15.8 million tons went to China, 23 percent more than in 2010.

As more states enact single stream recycling policies, which make things easier at the curb and generally increase recycling participation, the amount of “contaminated” recyclables is growing. Since China’s new laws make it much harder to off-load this waste without sorting or cleaning, states are left drowning in plastic that they’re not equipped to recycle.

“Green Fence has contributed to the 11% decline in export value of US plastic scrap in the first half of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012,” reports QZ.com. “China’s customs data reflect that too. It imported 20% less plastic scrap in Q2 than the same quarter of 2012, a value of $300 million less.” As a result, more toxic plastic is once again heading to the landfill.

The situation is dire, but it’s not without a potential silver lining. With China refusing to do our dirty work, some hope that Operation Green Fence will catalyze a U.S. recycling revolution that’s decades overdue.

“A wave of innovation and investment in recycling technology is needed to catalyse successful domestic recycling markets in the west, according to Mike Biddle, plastics recycling pioneer and founder of MBA Polymers,” The Guardian reports. “This could include more sophisticated handling and treatment techniques and more high-technology processing plants.”

Regardless of what, it’s clear that something has to be done. The Ashland Daily Tidings reports recycling centers in Oregon recently stopped accepting clear plastic “clamshell” containers, plastic hospital gowns and plastic bags. In Olympia, Washington, recycling centers are no longer accepting plastic bags, and farmers in California are trying to figure out what to do with the 50,000 to 75,000 tons of plastic they use each year.

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121 comments

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4:24PM PDT on Sep 21, 2013

The Eco-Connect Bottle is first and only plastic bottle that offers shoppers a sustainable, fun, imaginative and humanitarian re-use …….as an alternative to recycling.
For information email steven@eco-connectbottle.com

1:59PM PDT on Sep 15, 2013

Recycling is the only way for us to survive without destroying the planet

1:47PM PDT on Sep 15, 2013

I can say, If the U.S. recycled like they do here in Germany, they would create more jobs, have less landfills, and more cash in a persons pocket !

7:02PM PDT on Sep 14, 2013

We need a better way to correct typos!

6:56PM PDT on Sep 14, 2013

As the USSA [not a typo] insists it is a democratic, free-market capitalist paradise, here is a solution that should warm every libertarian's stone-dead heart:

Let us do as Germany, another democratic, free-market capitalist paradise did, and let the makers solve the problems they created. From now on, every container sold is brought back to the grocery or wherever it was sold, and the manufacturer now must accept them all back. In Germany when this was promulgated, within six months the size of packaging had shrunk 50% and the containers were all made recyclable.

6:55PM PDT on Sep 14, 2013

As the USSA [not a typo] insists it is a democratic, free-market capitalist paradise, here is a solution that should warm every libertarian's stone-dead heart:

Let us do as Germany, another democratic, free-market capitalist paradise did, and let the makers solve the problems they created. From now on, every container sold is brought back to grocery, where the manufacturer now must accept them all back. In Germany when this was promulgated, within six months the size of packaging had shrunk 50% and the containers were all made recyclable.

6:55PM PDT on Sep 14, 2013

As the USSA [not a typo] insists it is a democratic, free-market capitalist paradise, here is a solution that should warm every libertarian's stone-dead hearft:

Let us do as Germany, another democratic, free-market capitalist paradise did, and let the makers solve the problems they created. From now on, every container sold is brought back to grocery, where the manufacturer now must accept them all back. In Germany when this was promulgated, within six months the size of packaging had shrunk 50% and the containers were all made recyclable.

5:28PM PDT on Sep 11, 2013

Kudos for Steven G. and Karen F.

7:45AM PDT on Sep 11, 2013

thanks for sharing

5:47PM PDT on Sep 6, 2013

Melissa A, plastic is toxic. It has Bp-A (Bisphenol-A) in it that, over time, contributes to hormonal imbalances (gender bending properties) and is a proven carcinogen - known to promote cancers and tumors. It also induces neurological dysfunction; especially in the very young. There are a couple of conscientious baby-bottle manufacturers that have removed Bp-A from their product just for this reason. It's not just in plastic soda/water containers either. It's in the plastic lining in all canned goods also. Karen F is right about a return to glass, (wax and paper.)

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