Today I received a note from our local recycling company that they can no longer take any plastics except for washed milk jugs. Even the many kinds of hard plastic that claim to be fully recyclable they are unable to take. They say it's because of the international recycling crisis currently affecting the world. I'm a curious fellow, so I did some reading.
Late last year China greatly reduced the amount of material they will accept for recycling from outside the country. The news reports say that China has banned material imports, but that's not strictly true. They have greatly tightened up the quality controls on what they will accept so much of the material the US (and other countries) send no longer qualifies. Improving the cleanliness of our recycled material will surely help, but local authorities say it's not nearly enough. We simply produce far more than the market can accept.
This all makes sense, but I still have some questions that I've been unable to answer. If X percent of our material is no longer going to China then it will have to go somewhere else. This will certainly change the prices of some products, but is the material actually worth less than zero? Has US manufacturing capability really fallen so far that there no US companies who can make products out of this stuff?
And on the China side, won't cutting off a big chunk of their supply hurt their own companies? If they had companies building products out of recycled material that is now is shorter supply, then the price will go up, as will the cost of products. And if it doesn't go up, then that implies they weren't actually using as much of the material as we were shipping to them. It implies that much of it was becoming landfill waste and the government finally got tired of being the world's trash can. In any case, I still have a lot of open questions that the news coverage (at least the US news coverage) isn't answering.
Hopefully the end result of this change will be more transparency about the true cost of our products, and some actual change in the mix of materials used. We can hope, anyway.
Posted May 4th, 2018