Did You Know?

Posted by Andrew S. on Apr 7, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Typical U.S. supermarkets generate 80-150# of rigid recyclable plastic weekly
(volume varies by store sales)

  • Most rigids come from Fresh Produce and Pharmacy departments
  • Primarily clean HDPE#2 and PP#5
  • Generated by conventional stores – confirmed by recent in-field studies

Since 2007, one of America’s top exports to China has been…  trash. Yes, trash. That includes everything from scrap metal and paper to cardboard and crumpled aluminum soda cans. The United States sold $10.8 billion worth of metal and paper scrap recyclables to China in 2011.

It sounds weird, but the trade made a lot of sense. China had been sending so many consumer goods to the United States that all those shipping containers were coming back empty. So U.S. companies began stuffing the return-trip containers with recycled cardboard boxes, waste paper and other scrap. China could, in turn, harvest the raw materials. Everyone won.

Especially U.S. recycling programs. Those trash exports to China became indispensable for municipal recycling. In 2011, the United States recycled some 52.8 million tons of paper and paperboard — and about 15.8 million of those tons were sent to China. Likewise, China imports nearly half of America’s recycled plastics, including bottles and containers of all sorts, around $500 million worth.

But now that cozy arrangement is in danger. Over at Quartz, Gwynn Guilford reports that China has recently launched “Operation Green Fence” — a policy to prohibit the import of unwashed post-consumer plastics and other “contaminated” waste shipments. And that’s led to a serious crackdown of U.S. trash imports:

Other countries will take our recycling instead. A recent Recycling Today article raised the possibility that a great deal of America’s plastic and paper waste will simply get shipped elsewhere, to countries such as India. Still, it’s not clear that anyone can replace China, whose demand for America’s trash has been enormous.

The United States will simply have to recycle more of its trash at home. However, this is harder than it sounds. Guilford passes along this great chart noting that North America hasn’t built a new recycling plant since 2003 — that’s how reliant we’ve become on China.

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