China Gives Rest of World Opportunity to Step Up Recycling Efforts

China’s stricter recycling import laws is not new news. Yet the changes China has implemented is forcing countries near and far to revisit their own recycling practices.

Back in the 1980s, curbside recycling grew in popularity, giving homeowners everywhere a way to discard their trash while doing so in a seemingly eco-friendly fashion. This was good news for companies that took on the mentality of another person’s trash being another person’s treasure. Many companies saw this waste material as an opportunity for profit and were eager to create a market for scrap material, China serving as the epicenter of their recycling imports.

But that changed at the end of 2018 when China suddenly announced its intention to ban imports of recycled waste. Chinese officials claimed that the waste posed hazards to the environment.

According to numbers from the Financial Times, the U.S. exported 30 percent less plastic in the first six months of this year compared to the first half of 2017. This is because countries that once relied on China to import their scrap material are now watching their waste accumulate. In fact, many companies in the United States have sent their recycled materials to landfills due to the importation restrictions China has set.

What does that mean for us? We need to find alternative solutions for getting rid of our trash.

According to the World Bank, global waste is set to increase by 70 percent by the year 2050. The World Bank also reports that population growth will cause yearly global waste to increase by 3.4 billion tons in the next 30 years, a big leap compared to the 2 billion tons generated in 2016.

And National Geographic reports that since 1992, China has taken on nearly 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste. That means with China’s doors closed to the rest of the world’s trash exports, those countries need to seek out other solutions – and might do so by sending out their recycled materials to other places, such as the U.S. or E.U.

Much of the plastic that would’ve gone to China has been rerouted to other southeast Asian regions, Malaysia now becoming one of the world’s major plastic importers. Plastic shipments to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand have similarly seen significant increases.

Although China’s new recycling rules have resulted in these consequences, developed countries have the opportunity to improve their own recycling processes. One way is by reducing plastic use.

Karmenu Vella, European environment commissioner, believes that 250 more sorting facilities and 300 recycling plants will need to be built by 2025 to sustain the world’s waste material.

“In the long term, it will prove positive, because we will have to focus more on our own recycling capacity,” he said in a statement.

Berg Mill has a long history as one of the pioneers in the industry, and we are not going anywhere even when faced with recyclable import changes. Every day we are making progress, as new homes start to become more and more real for your material whether it be paper, plastic, metal, textiles, etc. If you continue to handle large amounts of recycled waste and are looking for solutions to offload idle scrap, please contact our industry veterans at Berg Mill Supply.