You know the routine, which has become a required liturgical rubric of the American civic religion. You separate your trash: plastics here, glass here, cans here, papers here. Doing so is our little way of showing we care about the environment. Not doing so – let’s just say it would be better not to be spotted in noncompliance by anyone with an elevated civic consciousness.
What happened to all the recyclable material then? Most people hadn’t had a clue. The mostly unknown fact is that it has been mostly sent to China, which has thus far had an insatiable need for cheap raw materials for manufactured products to feed its astonishing rise over the last twenty years into the leading industrial power in the world.
The system worked beautifully. Americans got to feel good about themselves by recycling as much as possible. China obtained the lowest possible prices for essential materials. The system worked, until suddenly it stopped working.
The End of Recycling
In the last year, everything changed with a new law that China passed at the onset of America’s trade war. The law, which came into effect in February 2018, is called the “National Sword” and its aim is to stop China from being used as the dumping ground for refuse from all over the world. It bans imports of 24 types of waste material. And it sets a regulatory standard for contamination that US recyclables cannot meet – with enforcement of that standard imposed by X-rays of shipping containers and much deeper inspections.
Basically, China no longer wants your leftover pizza box. Nor your empty 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew.
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