Everybody knows that when we recycle materials they don’t go to the landfill, but not many know where they do go. Thanks to new regulations passed by China, specifically the one called National Sword, that is now a question that no longer has a clear answer. The United States has a low recycling rate, to begin with. Of the 258 million tons of waste the US produced in 2014, only 89 million tons were recycled or composted, which is only 36%. For many years our country has shipped approximately 40% of all its recycled goods to China, and we’ve welcomed that option. Since that’s been shut down, it’s left the US with little in the way of a backup.
Thousands of tons of materials that would have been recycled are now making their way to landfills or incinerators instead. No other market can handle that much volume, including us, and we’re now left with closed recycling programs and rising costs to dispose of our trash.
As disruptive as the ban may be, experts are hoping that it will spur recycling innovation and new opportunities in the waste reduction markets. In 2008 China passed a law promoting a circular economy. The idea is that you create a product and packaging that you know can be recycled, rather than creating something and trying to figure out how to recycle it afterward.
The US may not be able to count on China to take our waste anymore, but hopefully, we can follow their lead and start being more productive ourselves, because, with a recycling rate of only 34%, we are not progressing fast enough. #ginb