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Think Your Plastic Is Being Recycled? Think Again.

Business  (tags: americans, China, business, economy, marketing, money, oil, plastics, politics, pollution )

- 1734 days ago -
U.S. recycling companies have largely stayed away from recycling plastic and most of it has been shipped to China where it can be processed cheaper. Not anymore. This year China announced a Green Fence Policy, prohibiting much of the plastic recycling->

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AWAY AWHILE Cal M (1067)
Friday September 20, 2013, 7:37 am
Thanks Kit--great article

Kit B (276)
Friday September 20, 2013, 7:41 am
Photo Credit: Michal Manas

Think those plastic items you carefully separate from the rest of your trash are being responsibly recycled? Think again. U.S. recycling companies have largely stayed away from recycling plastic and most of it has been shipped to China where it can be processed cheaper. Not anymore. This year China announced a Green Fence Policy, prohibiting much of the plastic recycling they once imported:

For many environmentally conscious Americans, there’s a deep satisfaction to chucking anything and everything plasticky into the recycling bin—from shampoo bottles to butter tubs—the types of plastics in the plastic categories #3 through #7. Little do they know that, even if their local trash collector says it recycles that waste, they might as well be chucking those plastics in the trash bin.
“[Plastics] 3-7 are absolutely going to a landfill—[China's] not taking that any more… because of Green Fence,” David Kaplan, CEO of Maine Plastics, a post-industrial recycler, tells Quartz. “This will continue until we can do it in the United States economically.”
U.S. recyclers are scrambling to come up with a solution now that China is drastically cutting back on their top import from the U.S.:

China's demand for low-cost recycled raw materials has meant waste shipments from Europe, the US, Japan and Hong Kong have arrived thick and fast, with scrap becoming the top US export to China by value ($11.3bn) in 2011.
China controls a large portion of the recycling market, importing about 70% of the world's 500m tonnes of electronic waste and 12m tonnes of plastic waste each year. Sudden Chinese policy changes therefore have a significant impact on the global recycling trade, which puts pressure on western countries to reconsider their reliance on the cost-effective practice of exporting waste, a habit that's reinforced by a lack of domestic recycling infrastructure and a lower demand for secondary raw materials.
China's Green Fence policy just might spur the U.S. government and recyclers into much-needed innovation:

Historically, higher labor costs and environmental safety standards made processing scrap into raw materials much more expensive in the US than in China. So the US never developed much capacity or technology to sort and process harder-to-break down plastics like #3 through #7.
Green Fence might be a chance to change that, says Mike Biddle, CEO of California-based recycling company MBA Polymers. “China’s Green Fence offers a real opportunity to the US government and recycling industry to step up its efforts on recycling and catalyze a strong domestic recycling market in the US,” Biddle said at a recent webinar on Green Fence.
Some U.S. recycling companies are applauding the news:

The policy also has leveled the playing field by allowing large-scale companies that have invested additional money in pollution control and recycling services to operate at a more equal and fair-cost level, according to Kathy Xuan, CEO of full-service recycler Parc Corp. of Romeoville, Ill.
With China taking a harder look at the plastic waste it imports, U.S.-based recyclers are looking for opportunities in the changing global market.

Parc has doubled production in the last six months, Xuan said in a July 2 webinar hosted by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. of Washington.
The opportunity for big change (and big profits) is there. Let's hope the U.S. government and recycling companies don't throw away the opportunity to lead the way. .

By: Scout Finch | Daily Kos |


Bryna Pizzo (139)
Friday September 20, 2013, 8:02 am
Thank you for the important news, Kit!

Patrick Donovan (344)
Friday September 20, 2013, 8:06 am
Very informative; thank you.

. (0)
Friday September 20, 2013, 8:19 am
Very important. Thanks.

Past Member (0)
Friday September 20, 2013, 8:26 am
Replace all water bottles with glass. Thx Kit

Sue H (7)
Friday September 20, 2013, 8:47 am
Good on China for their "green fence"! It's about time the the U.S. stopped sending our waste to other countries. Our recycle companies can just step up their game, hire some folks and do the Right Thing.

Past Member (0)
Friday September 20, 2013, 9:40 am
I saw a documentary awhile back about American recycling and just how much of it was being loaded on ships, transported across the Pacific, and then just dumped in China. It was truly awful watching the very poorest of the poor Chinese people living in these vast landfills and trying to scrape a living any way that they could off of recyclable materials that no one was even beginning to process for recycling. We need to be pressuring our recycling companies to actually recycle the materials and not just ship the electronics, plastics, or whatever to become someone else's problem on the other side of the world.

Donna Hamilton (159)
Friday September 20, 2013, 9:48 am
Noted. Thanks for the info, Kit.

Past Member (0)
Friday September 20, 2013, 10:29 am
And I thought I was doing my part by recycling. We better get this right pretty soon.

JL A (281)
Friday September 20, 2013, 11:28 am
Part of why CA has standards for how such waste gets handled by those authorized (several companies have been fined). We learned our lesson with original bottle/can bill when people recycled more than expected and some landed in NV landfills.

Jamie Clemons (282)
Friday September 20, 2013, 1:21 pm
Outrageous there is no reason they can't use it for something.

Nelson Baker (0)
Friday September 20, 2013, 1:38 pm
Thank you for the information.

Brad Miller (120)
Friday September 20, 2013, 1:50 pm
Thank you for posting this Kit, very eye-opening, and disappointing.

Kathleen R (138)
Friday September 20, 2013, 2:26 pm
read & noted

Sheryl G (360)
Friday September 20, 2013, 2:48 pm
All the fuel that it takes to cart this plastic to China. I hope it doesn't get dumped out in the ocean along with so much that is already there. We need to go back to bottles and reuse them over and over again.

I had placed a story on a long time ago, the actually C2 link even got onto the movie Thrive. Explains how a man made an invention to turn plastic into fuel. Why can't that be done here? Stop digging into the ground so much.
Man Invents Machine to Turn Convert Plastic to Oil

Winnie A (179)
Friday September 20, 2013, 3:01 pm

Barbara K (60)
Friday September 20, 2013, 4:02 pm
I hope that sooner or later; actually soon is better to find use for the garbage that is generated by this country. It seems that plastics if they can find a way to detoxify them could be used in some way for fuel. How about the different companies recycling the plastic bottles with deposits charged when purchasing and given back when returned to the center or store, or whatever? Much like recycling Soda bottles and cans. Look how the states roads were cleaned up when that started including in my own state, decades ago.

Barbara K (60)
Friday September 20, 2013, 4:03 pm
Thanks for this info, my friend, I had no idea this was happening.

Charlene Rush (79)
Friday September 20, 2013, 4:15 pm
PLEASE, don't tell me this!

Well, the only solution is, _no more plastic_.
Now, how well do you think that will go over?

Lois Jordan (63)
Friday September 20, 2013, 4:21 pm
Noted. Adding my thanks for posting this info, Kit.

marie C (163)
Friday September 20, 2013, 6:01 pm
Thank you as always opening so many peoples eyes to what is going on

Past Member (0)
Friday September 20, 2013, 6:09 pm
Let's just remember to carry our own shopping bags from now on. That should be easy enough.

Jeremy S (3)
Friday September 20, 2013, 7:36 pm
Horrifying! I had no more than a sneaking suspicion that something like this was going on. (Or wasn't going on, I suppose I should say.)

So, we need to increase recycling here in the US, which cuts down on shipping costs (and environmental effects thereof) anyway!

Past Member (0)
Saturday September 21, 2013, 4:07 am
Use something more beneficial to our home and future

Roberta Z (16)
Saturday September 21, 2013, 6:49 am
We're still sorting trash from plastic recyclables with hopes they will be recycled instead of going to the landfill.

Anne P (174)
Saturday September 21, 2013, 6:50 am
Thanks, Kit. This news is really not surprising.

Where I live, only #1 and #2 plastic bottles with necks are accepted at curbside recycling. What to do with #5 yogurt cups, plastic containers with lids, etc? Whole Foods is accepting those containers for recycling as part of Preserve's Gimme 5 recycling initiative ( If you have a Whole Foods in your area, you can drop your #5 containers there. If you don't live near one of Preserve's Gimme 5 dropoff locations, you can mail in your recyclables:

I have yet to find a source to recycle #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE) clamshells that berries come in, which are not accepted for recycling in my city. I suppose I could take them to the farmer's market and offer them to farmers for re-use.

fly bird (26)
Saturday September 21, 2013, 10:10 am
I wonder how much this varies form state to state, town to town.
I had heard about disgarded cell phones and electronics being shipped to China, and other waste.
I also saw on t.v. recently new technology that burns refuse at extremely high temperatures, which seemed promising.
As for plastics, it is near impossible for them to decompose - it takes thousands of years, virtually, and converting/reusing the stuff seems the only viable way to deal with all the plastic.
The U.S. would do well to work on reutilizing the plastic and use resourcefully, and not outsource. I believe it is working on this, but I do not know specifically.
Shipping refuse, etc, across oceans is ridiculous. We allneed to clean up our act and deal with our own pile of garbage.

Roger G (154)
Saturday September 21, 2013, 5:03 pm
noted, thanks

pam w (139)
Sunday September 22, 2013, 4:57 pm
Well....THIS is depressing!

Latonya W (82)
Wednesday September 25, 2013, 12:32 pm
thanx sure didnt know...

Melania P (122)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 10:40 am
It is frustrating, it is up to us! Just don´t use plastic! Or avoid as much as you can. Is like the problem with garbage, it is not so much you dispose of it well; it is not to trash in the first place!
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