Beginning last February China began enforcing strict environmental policies for the hundreds of millions of tons of recyclable waste that travels through its ports. After spending the past decade as the top buyer for US and European recyclers, the government of China decided that there was too much trash being shipped along with plastic, paper, and scrap metal debris.

Previously, recycling companies in the US and Europe could get away with shipping large loads of recyclables to China that were not properly sorted and contained various amounts of non-recyclable trash. At one point Chinese waste management workers could expect as much as 20% of a single shipment to contain non-recyclable trash in the form of random bits of debris and unwashed food containers. The net result was a lot more trash for China to deal with and more pollution in its waterways. 

China’s new policies include rigorous inspection of all waste containers sent to its shores, as well as refusing shipments that contain either the wrong kind of plastic or too much trash. These new policies have left a lot of recyclers in the West reeling as they suddenly have to find new buyers for their poorly sorted waste.

However, there are some trade experts who believe that China’s stringent environmental policies won’t last. The economic pressure to keep recyclables flowing into the country will eventually force port inspectors to let in increasing numbers of contaminated shipments. Since the country itself has very few resources of its own, it relies on scrap metal and plastic debris from other countries to produce everything from clothing to vehicles.

While a lot of recyclers are in a tizzy over China’s new policies, there are some in the industry who welcome the change. After all, a lot of the businesses hurt by the policy changes were the ones who were taking shortcuts in the first place. With the new regulations in place they will be forced to adapt their sorting standards or fold altogether. In the long-term, it could be a boost to the sustainability of the recycling industry as a whole.

Source via: Christian Science Monitor