For decades, China has been accepting nearly 40% of U.S. recycled goods to use as scrap material for their own products but within the last decade they have decided to make a shift to using their own recycled goods.
China’s economy is now the second-largest in the world, not to mention that its output is nearly as high as the U.S., so their need to import scrap material it not as crucial as in the past. The imported recycled goods from the U.S. have also reportedly been full of contaminants that are causing pollution and smog in China. This could be due to the U.S. adoption of single-stream recycling and poor sorting of the material. For many years China was quite lenient on quality, but now are understandably stricter about the quality of materials they will accept.
China has been showing signs of cleaning up their act for years. In 2008, the China government passed a law encouraging products to be made with recycling in mind, rather than considering recycling as an afterthought to the production process. And even though they continued to accept scrap materials from the U.S., China warned Americans that it would be imposing stricter demands on the quality and intended to halt all recycling imports by 2020. Finally, when the Chinese National Sword came into effect in February of 2018, 24 types of waste material imports were banned, and standards were so strict that in 2019 Chinese plastic imports were down 99%.
Now that the U.S. can’t simply pack up its waste materials and ship them to China, the U.S. may actually will need to do the work of recycling the materials into new goods. The alternative? The recycled materials could have been ending up in landfills.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has not put as much stock in recycling and now is under a short deadline to figure out what to do with its scrap material. With a recycling rate of only about 34%, it’s not surprising we’re struggling with how to move forward. The U.S. would do best to take a lesson from China’s rapid transformation and focus on a circular economy that aims for biodegradable or easily recyclable packaging prior to a product’s release. Businesses like Ikea and Dell have already been leading the way with mushroom-based biodegradable packaging.
Recycling and composting trash actually produces more jobs for the economy than using landfills and incinerators. The U.S. has a lot to gain in sustainability and long-term benefits if it shifts to a recycling circular economy. We need to invest here at home now before it is too late.
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. As usual, the Lunar New Year has caused the market to take a dip as many buyers are on holiday. But rest assured—we believe there will be a rebound, just not as quickly as in previous years. So, if you are looking for solutions to offload idle scrap, please contact our industry veterans at Berg Mill Supply where we can handle large amounts of recycled waste.