Americans recycle about 66 million tons of garbage every year, but more of it is going into landfills than one might expect. This is because more of it goes to China than we realize, and China recently implemented a massive scale back (and, in some cases, an outright ban) on what they’ll accept.


China has been the world’s go-to for foreign recycling for some time. Then, last summer, as part of a new antipollution campaign, they abruptly announced they were no longer going to accept “foreign garbage.” This has left the U.S. and many other Western nations scrambling. In the ensuing chaos (and in response to the buildup of tons and tons of waste material stacking up in American storage facilities), some contracted recycling services are bypassing domestic processing centers completely, and driving straight to the dump.


Of the companies who are still managing to make recycling work, some are following China’s example and getting very strict on which plastics, and what level of contamination they’ll accept. Others are passing the higher costs on to the consumer. In every case, what the plants can’t (or won’t) process, they’re sending to landfill.


Other countries are trying to step up to take their piece of the $300+ million industry, hoping to resell salvageable materials for scrap. However, notwithstanding what it will take to approach China’s past dominance in the industry, scrap exports themselves are down by 40 percent this year.


To combat the problem, consumers will have to make some tough choices. Many people need to get smarter about sorting. For example, greasy pizza boxes have never been recyclable, but people continue to put them in the street side bins. These contaminants can ruin an entire load of recycling, and, in an already overtaxed processing system, can make it harder for smaller processors to keep forging ahead.


The other option is, of course, the other two Rs. We’ve become comfortable with recycling, but it might be time to devote more focus on reducing and reusing if we really want to solve the problem.



Read the entire article from the The New York Times, Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not.


Looking for a guide to what you can recycle? Look no further than 6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong.