Trash Cash

05.09.13

Is China’s Junk Appetite Declining?

China has stopped taking thousands of tons of recyclable trash from the U.S., which could mean huge garbage back-ups for cities.

For years China has been one of the main importers of recyclable trash from the U.S. but the country just can’t take it anymore—literally. Quartz reports that the Chinese have put up an import wall on foreign waste and recycling stations in the US are backing up with plastic bottles and products that aren’t going anywhere.

Most people likely don’t know that the majority of the trash and recyclables collected in the US isn’t re-processed here, it’s sent to other countries. Trash, in fact, is one of America’s largest exports and the volume of trash leaving our shores has doubled since 2006. China is the number one customer. Factories there turn used cardboard and paper into new cardboard and paper, and use the resign from plastics in manufacturing processes.

Recently though, China has imposed restrictions on foreign trash and become pickier about what types of plastics it will accept. The new measure is called Operation Green Fence and Chinese reports show that the country has been turning away hundreds of thousands of tons of waste from the U.S. This may spell out big issues for American cities, where the technology and markets for recyclables isn’t strong enough for the overwhelming amount of waste produced.

In other areas, of course, some countries are having the opposite problem—they just can’t get enough trash. Norway and Sweden burn leftover waste for fuel and are currently in a drought because they are burning more garbage than their eco-friendly European neighbors can accumulate.Norwegian officials have said they have previously considered importing trash from the U.S. via ships. Perhaps northern Europe can be the new outlet the U.S. needs.