Over 87 percent of Americans have access to either curbside or drop-off recycling programs. Each week most conservation-conscious individuals proudly bring out their bins heaped with recycled bottles, cans, papers and boxes under the guise that all of this carefully sorted waste will be remade into something new. Unfortunately that is not exactly how the process works.
China imports over 70 percent of the world’s electronic and plastic waste each year. In fact, discarded plastic accounted for our largest export to China by value in 2011. The reason? Plastic waste can be processed much cheaper in China than in the United States. And because the Asian country is so eager for our garbage, America has yet to implement a sound and efficient plastic recycling program, due primarily to the high labor costs involved and environmental concerns it would pose.
However, all of that has changed with the implementation of China’s Green Fence Policy. As of this year, China will no longer accept our plastic trash. So you can pretty much bet that those yogurt cups and shampoo bottles that you so diligently separated from your household garbage are not being remoulded into a new product, but sitting in a landfill somewhere. And many of the self-righteous recyclers right here in America are to blame.
About 20 percent of the plastics China receives are contaminated and therefore, cannot be recycled. In fact you’ve probably done it yourself, tossed a cup or bottle in the bin without cleaning it out. Or maybe threw something in there that wasn’t recyclable but figured it was no big deal.
Well that minor slip can be the cause of a whole load of potential reusable products to be cast into a landfill where they’ll leach their toxins into the land and eventually into the water we drink. The plants in China were forced to bury the contaminated loads or, even worse, burn them, which polluted their own land, air and water.
As a result, the Green Fence Policy will keep our plastics right here, which means for the time being anyway, in our own landfills. However, the Green Fence Policy may not be all that bad.
Until now, we simply shut our eyes to the consequences of shipping our plastic trash overseas. The fuel alone is a major use of resources, not to mention the fact that with each outing we pollute the seas and affect the wildlife. But many of China’s plants lack proper water-treatment facilities, meaning that the wastewater from the plants is left to wash back into the rivers and streams.
Many domestic recycling plants see China’s policy as a benefit. They won’t have to fight with the less-expensive Asian recycling market and can produce a number of much-needed jobs right at home.
However, until more centers establish safe recycling standards it’s best to avoid using plastics when possible. Avoid pre-packaged and single-serving containers, use cloth shopping bags and when you do place your plastics in the recycling bin, wash them out first!
-The Alternative Daily