The Waste Stream Comes Home
Where does all that recycled paper and plastic? Up until now, a big part of the answer would have been “to China,” where it has fed a rapidly growing manufacturing sector. But no more. Chinese ports are closing to imported paper and plastic waste, and cardboard waste will be subject to tougher restrictions. China’s rationale—industrial pollution reduction—is laudable, but the ripple effects will be huge. China has been buying some 8 million tons of the world’s discarded mixed paper and another 8 million tons of discarded plastics each year. Strikingly, 87% of the EU’s recycled plastic is exported directly or indirectly to China, and almost 4,000 shipping containers of recyclables leave the US for China each day. Going forward, this waste will either pile up, go to landfills, or pollute some other country. That is, unless countries take action to reduce the waste stream at its source by imposing stricter regulations on product design and packaging practices. Exporting environmental problems has been all too easy, but it’s a dead-end strategy. We need to reduce pollution, not just move it around.