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China bans foreign waste – but what will happen to the world’s recycling?

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  • China bans foreign waste – but what will happen to the world’s recycling?

    While all of us are preoccupied with the political clown show in DC, things are happening around the world that will affect our lives more directly than anything Mueller does, because it transcends politics.
    This is one of those issues that should be getting press, but it lacks the romance of partisanship.

    The dominant position that China holds in global manufacturing means that for many years China has also been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials. Last year, Chinese manufacturers imported 7.3m metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan.

    However, in July 2017, China announced big changes in the quality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World Trade Organisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year. This campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage” applies to plastic, textiles and mixed paper and will result in China taking a lot less material as it replaces imported materials with recycled material collected in its own domestic market, from its growing middle-class and Western-influenced consumers.

    The impact of this will be far-reaching. China is the dominant market for recycled plastic. There are concerns that much of the waste that China currently imports, especially the lower grade materials, will have nowhere else to go.

    This applies equally to other countries including the EU27, where 87% of the recycled plastic collected was exported directly, or indirectly (via Hong Kong), to China. Japan and the US also rely on China to buy their recycled plastic. Last year, the US exported 1.42m tons of scrap plastics, worth an estimated US$495m to China.
    Plastic problems

    So what will happen to the plastic these countries collect through household recycling systems once the Chinese refuse to accept it? What are the alternatives?

    Plastics collected for recycling could go to energy recovery (incineration). They are, after all, a fossil-fuel based material and burn extremely well – so on a positive note, they could generate electricity and improve energy self-sufficiency.

    They could also go to landfill (not ideal) – imagine the press headlines. Alternatively, materials could be stored until new markets are found. This also brings problems, however – there have been hundreds of fires at sites where recyclable materials are stored.
    Time to change our relationship with plastic?

    While it is a reliable material, taking many forms from cling film (surround wrap) to flexible packaging to rigid materials used in electronic items, the problems caused by plastic, most notably litter and ocean plastics, are receiving increasing attention.

    One way forward might be to limit its functions. Many disposable items are made from plastic. Some of them are disposable by necessity for hygiene purposes – for instance, blood bags and other medical items – but many others are disposable for convenience.

    Looking at the consumer side of things, there are ways of cutting back on plastic. Limiting the use of plastic bags through financial disincentives is one initiative that has shown results and brought about changes in consumer behaviour. In France, some disposable plastic items are banned and in the Britain, leading pub chain Wetherspoons has banned disposable, one-use plastic drinking straws.

    Deposit and return schemes for plastic bottles (and drink cans) could also incentivise behaviour. Micro-beads, widely used in cosmetics as exfoliants, are now a target as the damage they do becomes increasingly apparent and the UK government has announced plans to ban their use in some products.

    This follows similar actions announced by the US and Canada, with several EU nations, South Korea and New Zealand also planning to implement bans.

    Many local authorities collect recycling that is jumbled together. But a major side effect of this type of collection is that while it is convenient for the householder, there are high contamination levels which leads to reduced material quality. This will mean it is either sold for lower prices into a limited market, will need to be reprocessed through sorting plants, or will be incinerated or put in landfill. But changes to recycling collections and reprocessing to improve the quality of materials could be expensive.

    Alternatively, recycled plastic could be used to provide chemicals to the petrochemical sector, fuels to the transport and aviation sectors, food packaging and many other applications.

    The problems we are now facing are caused by China’s global dominance in manufacturing and the way many countries have relied on one market to solve their waste and recycling problems. The current situation offers us an opportunity to find new solutions to our waste problem, increase the proportion of recycled plastic in our own manufactured products, improve the quality of recovered materials and to use recycled material in new ways.
    http://theconversation.com/china-ban...ecycling-85924
    Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

  • #2
    On a national scale, let alone a global scale, 7.3 metric tons is pretty much a tiny drop in an incredibly huge bucket. It;s about one pound or so for every country - 168 of them last time I looked - on the planet.

    This isn't going to make a dent in anything.

    If, however, China stops recycling computers and toxic items of that nature for the entire world, then that will make a difference - it will create recycling jobs in nations like America and spur recycling technology.

    All in all, a good thing.
    Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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    • #3
      It's 7.3 million metric tons...
      Wisdom is personal

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      • #4
        And, it will all go somewhere else for someone else to make money on.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
          And, it will all go somewhere else for someone else to make money on.
          "Not my problem"

          But I suspect it will be burnt.
          Wisdom is personal

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Karri View Post
            "Not my problem"

            But I suspect it will be burnt.
            There's money in some recycling. There isn't in other types. Plastic is marginal but can be profitable. Metals are profitable. For example, silver and gold in electrical components is valuable. Lithium batteries are profitable as are lead acid batteries. Copper is always in demand now. Aluminum is much cheaper to recycle than make new because of the energy required to smelt the ore.
            Paper has limited applications and it's just about as cheap to make new as recycle it.

            Burning waste is often a good way to go if you are using the resulting energy for something. For example, electrical generation. Burning ground up tires to make electricity is better than coal and gets rid of the tires that don't decompose when put in a dump.

            Recycled motor oil and other petroleum products have secondary uses they can be put to.

            Comment


            • #7
              Ahhhh...I thought if an outhouse is used the waste finds itself going down the hole to China....

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Karri View Post
                "Not my problem"

                But I suspect it will be burnt.
                It will be our problem when the recycling company that picks up our trash starts raising our rates because there is no place to pile it.
                Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
                  It will be our problem when the recycling company that picks up our trash starts raising our rates because there is no place to pile it.
                  Or, they raise fees because the minimum wage goes up... After all, most city recycling programs bleed serious red ink and are wholly unprofitable.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
                    It will be our problem when the recycling company that picks up our trash starts raising our rates because there is no place to pile it.
                    Recycling that works is a good thing, have you notice that there are no lead mines operating in the US? There is no need, we recover all we need.

                    Other things can be burned (and have been, so lets not panic) or converted to fertilizer or just dumped in a hole in the ground to rot.
                    Everything does, eventually.

                    What China just did was inevitable, and not just because of the emotional tag "foreign garbage". Their standard of living is going up, and picking through a pile of computer scraps for slivers of gold or platinum isn't profitable for them anymore.
                    Get used to it, and think of something else.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Karri View Post
                      "Not my problem"

                      But I suspect it will be burnt.
                      A lot of garbage already gets recycled, buried, or burned in Mexico.

                      My burg don't bother with a recycling program. The city has a thousand acres that looks like as copper mine. They're burying it deep, compacted in layers. When it is full, it'll be a hundred feet higher than it was to start with, but that won't be for forty-odd years.

                      Then they'll start in the section next to it.

                      There's plenty of empty land for this sort of thing.
                      Any man can hold his place when the bands play and women throw flowers; it is when the enemy presses close and metal shears through the ranks that one can acertain which are soldiers, and which are not.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by The Exorcist View Post
                        Recycling that works is a good thing, have you notice that there are no lead mines operating in the US? There is no need, we recover all we need.
                        The EPA put them all out of business. Recycled batteries go overseas to be processed into lead for batteries and other products such as containers for radioactive isotopes used for cancer treatment.

                        We had a small landfill in a borrow pit of clay that was used to make cement. It was filled with trash and capped with a dozen flare towers that shot 40 foot flames in the air day and night for some 20 years. Now that all of the organic material has decayed, the towers are no longer needed.

                        The cardboard, paper, and plastics most likely can be burned for power generation if we are charged enough for collecting that stuff separate. Otherwise, its the landfill.

                        Trash, $155 this year on the tax bill.
                        “Breaking News,”

                        “Something irrelevant in your life just happened and now we are going to blow it all out of proportion for days to keep you distracted from what's really going on.”

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Urban hermit View Post
                          It will be our problem when the recycling company that picks up our trash starts raising our rates because there is no place to pile it.
                          No, because then people will stop recycling and just put everything in the regular trash.

                          The trash companies should be the ones either sorting the stuff themselves and selling it to specific recyclers, or sending it so recyclers to be sorted and re-used. It's not the job of a citizen to pay to sort his own garbage so that someone else can profit from it.
                          Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
                            No, because then people will stop recycling and just put everything in the regular trash.

                            The trash companies should be the ones either sorting the stuff themselves and selling it to specific recyclers, or sending it so recyclers to be sorted and re-used. It's not the job of a citizen to pay to sort his own garbage so that someone else can profit from it.
                            Except for the winter, three separate trucks run the route. One collects yard waste to compost. One collects the recycle which can now be placed in one bin of paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, cans. The rest is trash with a size limit of 33 gallons for the can and 50 pounds on the content. Bulky items are tagged and picked up separate.
                            “Breaking News,”

                            “Something irrelevant in your life just happened and now we are going to blow it all out of proportion for days to keep you distracted from what's really going on.”

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by SRV Ron View Post
                              Except for the winter, three separate trucks run the route. One collects yard waste to compost. One collects the recycle which can now be placed in one bin of paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, cans. The rest is trash with a size limit of 33 gallons for the can and 50 pounds on the content. Bulky items are tagged and picked up separate.
                              Not out here. We used to have to pay and then take the stuff to the recycling center ourselves. I stopped doing that because the recycler was making a profit.

                              Now we have a dumpster - lot of stuff to get rid of in the country - and a recycle bin- but we still pay extra for that recycle bin to be picked up once every two weeks, and since a lot of stuff can be recycled, it's not working well. Much easier and cheaper for us to put it all in the same dumpster, which is emptied every week, and let the profit makers sort it out themselves. It's all about the customer, not about the one making the profit.


                              Before this set-up, we could sell our aluminum cans to a dealer and get some decent cash back...paid for my gas every week.
                              Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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