The Garbage Day That Never Comes

China’s Recycling Embargo Trashes U.S. Domestic Paper Processing


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Travis Flippo, Writer

In the wake of China’s embargo on accepting recycling from foreign nations, the United States has since gained another crisis on her plate. The embargo began in January of 2018 and has led to an increase in production in domestic paper recycling all across the U.S. This embargo has also been expedited by the recent domestic unrest on mainland China. With the Chinese ban, the recycling industry has lost its biggest market across the board and forced the rest of the world to rely on their own domestic recycling plants. 


The campus is affected by this ban in each and every day of operation. Hundreds of pounds of recycled paper go unrecycled each week as a result. The weekly pickup of recycled materials by the Environmental Club has since been halted due to the Chinese embargo. Disposal of recycling has been turned to basic garbage removal as of the beginning of this issue. This issue has led to the City of Saginaw to have a Recycling Day to solve or at least alleviate the issue. The Saginaw City Council has proposed this day in the pursuit of helping the problem across the metroplex.


“They’re just throwing everything away with the garbage and that is not a solution,” Environmental Science teacher Denise Bennett said.


The United States has been forced to confront the issue of domestic disposal of recycled goods. The States, being the world’s largest recycling producer, sent 70 percent of plastics generated domestically to Chinese recycling centers. Because of this ban, revenue in recycling centers has plummeted, and costs have increased greatly. In the time being, no reasonable or cost effective methods for dealing with the recycling crisis have been put in place or even considered. The over-reliance on foreign aid with garbage disposal has been developing for the better part of the last sixty years and the Chinese ban is the first time in this span that the U.S. has been forced to deal with their problems at their own doorstep. Larger cities such as New York, San Francisco and Portland have adapted to alternative methods such as expanding to process higher quality and more marketable materials. 


“I know that American recycling plants cannot hold the capacity that China’s far larger plants can take. This is mostly what’s stopping many of America’s larger cities from recycling anything,” Bennett said.


Drawbacks have included dropping some harder-to-recycle materials, such as thicker plastics with a high melting temperature to conserve costs. Residents are forced to throw away these undesired materials in their household trash cans. In smaller communities however, rising costs are leaving cities unable to adapt to the climate. Curbside pickup, for example, has been suspended in rural Georgia and Tennessee towns and citizens are forced to take their recycling to a sometimes distant collection point to dispose of their recycling. 


This issue has no resolution in sight for the domestic issues that will only further plague the United States. Our country generates 250 million tons of trash and no longer exports any to China. The market for recycling is sure to take off in the U.S. however the States can only last so long without a dedicated nationwide recycling processing center. Processing plants already in production in the States are aging and without proper pollution control.