For one, China’s decision in 2017 to no longer accept imported recycled materials is still in place, and is likely not to change in the near future..
For decades, the country was content to accept, process, and transform recycled materials from across the globe, but no longer. In July 2017, the government announced new policies that would effectively ban imports of most recyclables, particularly plastics. They went into effect last March. Considering that China has imported a cumulative 45% of plastic waste since 1992, this is a huge deal.
Where once China offered a market for the world’s plastic bottles, tubs, and other packaging to be turned into – for example – polyester clothing, now, that market is gone. This means that recycling costs have skyrocketed. A few years ago, Franklin, New Hampsire could sell recyclables for $6 per ton. Now, it costs the town $125 per ton to recycle that same stuff!
Municipalities across the country are facing this startling arithmetic, so hundreds are choosing the drastically cheaper option: throw most traditionally recycled materials in the trash, instead.
For another, it has become even more obvious that the cost of recycling is more damaging to the environment.
As Kinnaman discovered in a 2014 study – a complete life cycle analysis of the recycling process – it currently doesn’t make much economic or environmental sense to recycle plastic and glass in much of the developed world. Both of these materials are fairly easy on the environment to produce, but oftentimes very tricky and intense to recycle. When you factor in all of the water used to decontaminate plastic and glass, the immense distances traversed transporting them (usually by truck, train or ship), and the mechanical and chemical processes utilized to transform them into new goods, it becomes clear that they are better off in a landfill.
Will these facts cause local governments to change their laws and end recycling? Don’t bet on it. Recycling has never had anything to do with actually saving the environment. Its purpose has always been to make people feel good about themselves. Those emotions make it impossible for most people to consider these facts.
Try it. Tell you friends and family about these facts. You will find yourself faced with an unalterable skepticism that no fact can change.
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