Why China’s Refusal to Take Recycled Plastic Could Hurt Our Environment

One of the largest reasons China has exploded into a world manufacturing giant is that they’ve found unique ways of obtaining materials to make things out of. Perhaps one of the most unique ways is through the fact that they were literally buying trash from the United States. It’s true—Chinese business moguls built immense businesses on the service of processing scrap plastic from all around the world and recycling it, processing it into usable materials which could then be used to create new things that were sold back to the United States for even more profit. This trend continued for years, with the U.S. shipping as much as 700,000 tons of used plastic waste to China for recycling.

However, China recently put a stop to this practice and has halted nearly all imports of trash. And that’s put the United States into quite the conundrum: what will we do with all of our extra trash that would otherwise explode and overload landfills? The overwhelming majority of plastic waste ends up in landfills, especially things that are difficult or not economically viable to recycle like plastic shrink wrap, paper, or plastic bags. This is also bad news for the environment, where plastics that break down could become harmful to both plant and wildlife.

Why China Stopped Importing Trash

In 2017, the Chinese government began to crack down on trash imports after discovering that much of the unrecycled or unusable plastic was simply being thrown into the nation’s canyons as landfills as well. Some plastics were even found incorporated into the soil in cornfields located near some of these landfills. In 2018, they banned nearly all imports of trash entirely. And it looks that they’ll start again anytime soon. Chinese plastic processing plants have a considerable amount of plastic with which to work still, but countries including the US are now stuck wondering what to do with their old plastic.

As a stop-gap measure, the US has started sending much of its waste to other countries around China, including Malaysia and Thailand. Exports from the U.S. to Thailand jumped almost 7,000 percent in one year, and Malaysia’s went up several hundred percent. Since this began, both of these countries have also started cutting back on waste imports because they too are becoming overwhelmed by trash.

What the U.S. Can Do

According to Keefe Harrison, who runs a nonprofit organization called the Recycling Partnership, one of the largest hurdles to overcome with recycling in the United States is the fact that only about half of all Americans have the ability to recycle at home as easily as it is to throw something away. This means that roughly half of the country is more incentivized to simply throw recyclable plastic in the trash, where it then simply goes to landfills.

It’s also difficult in that US recyclers simply can’t keep up with the amount of plastic that’s being disposed of. Many communities are stockpiling the waste for processing when the resources become available, but some areas have temporarily halted recycling of certain materials simply because they can’t keep up. Increasing recycling resources and the ability to process more plastic waste (as well as metal and glass) in a shorter amount of time would go a long way towards keeping more recycling out of our landfills.

The next thing Americans can do is to simply start using less plastic and other items that could turn into waste. One of the largest sources of plastic waste is also one of the easiest to cut out: water bottles. Many Americans spend hundreds of dollars per year buying flat after flat of water bottles to provide them with clean drinking water. Using a filtration system can avoid that and allow them to simply depend on one simple re-useable bottle that’s refilled.

If you’re interested in filtering the water in your home, our Fresno water purification experts can help. Call Quality Home Services at (800) 985-8103 today to find out more about what you can do to improve your home’s water quality!