Blog March 2019

Is This The End of Recycling?

Posted On: March 06, 2019

Why Some Papers and Plastics Are Ending Up In The Trash
Photo by Alex Fu from Pexels

For a long time, Americans have been stigmatized for their lack of recycling habits. However, over the years, many have come around and are recycling at acceptable levels. And this extends further to just home. Airports, malls, schools and office buildings across the country have placed extra bins for plastic bottles, aluminum cans and newspapers. Some cities even have inspectors for these commercial buildings who can lay down fines for failing to recycle properly. 

Unfortunately, much of this carefully sorted recycling is now ending up in the trash anyway. For decades, America sent over the bulk of their recycling to China. These materials were re-purposed into goods and resold as shoes, bags and other new plastic plastic products. But last year China imposed a ban on shipping these materials over anymore. They restricted imports of certain recyclables, which included mixed paper (magazines, office paper, junk mail, etc.) and most plastics.

This measure has had great effect on the recycling procedures in the US. Waste management companies across the country have told towns, cities and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. Thus, two choices are available for these places: payer higher rates to get rid of the recycling or simply throw it all away. Sadly, many are choosing the latter option. This means that much more plastic is being burned and releasing toxins into the environment. 

And this end to recycling comes at a time when the United States is creating more waste than ever before. The environmental cost to this trend could be terrible. When any organic waste sits in a landfill, it decomposes, which emits methane. A toxin that is bad for the climate. And burning plastic produces carbon emissions, another harmful impact to the environment.

This is an issue that needs to be monitored over time. Without an external avenue to recycle, perhaps companies should look inward. But many companies have trepidation when it comes to this route, because, despite the number growing, Americans are still generally terrible at recycling. By that I mean they mix and match improperly, leading to issues with recycling plants. Why shipping it to China worked so well is that the cost to ship it over was low. But this was because China employed low-waged workers to pick through it. So for recycling to work in America, people need to learn how to properly recycle and/or simply pay for the costs of people to sift through the recycling properly.