Is recycling as we know it about to die in 2019?
We officially have almost four months until that blue recycling bin is all but rendered useless. I’m sure there are tree-huggers rolling their eyes at me right now, but unless something changes quickly, recycling as we know it is about to die.
For years and years, when Pacific Northwesterners prided themselves on recycling, it was actually a house of cards. That plastic bottle or paper product that you fastidiously cleaned and sorted ended up on a literal slow boat to China.
The Chinese economy was clawing its way into the modern era, and the incredibly cheap and seemingly inexhaustible supply of labor meant it was a good business model to buy the garbage of the United States, manually sort it, recycle it, and then sell it back to the US at a steep markup in the form of consumer goods.
But now that China is the second largest economy in the world, it’s done with our trash. Starting in April of 2019, China will add more categories of recyclables to its banned list. In addition to the forbidden items from this year, 32 types of scrap metal will now be banned. So what does that mean? Well, a good percentage of the trash that we are currently putting in the blue bin is not being recycled.
You heard me right. It’s hard to get an accurate number because the recycling industry, which charges you extra for the pleasure of having the consumer do the sorting work for them, has a vested interest in making it appear like everything is going according to plan.
It is not. Huge mountains of recyclables are piling up or ending up in U.S. landfills as we speak.
Plan B at this point is crossing our fingers and trying to get poor countries like Thailand, Vietnam, or Korea to take our trash. So far, that is not working out.
How about this as an idea? Maybe the United States should be responsible for its own garbage. Perhaps we should figure out creative ways to recycle paper and aluminum. Maybe we don’t need elaborate packaging on every single thing we buy. Or gasp, maybe we don’t really need to buy a plastic bottle of water when we have some of the best drinking water in the world right out of the tap.
The recycling chickens have come home to roost. We’ve collectively puffed up our chests for a long time about how much we care about the environment, when in reality, we have been paying China to clean our conscious.
Are we now going to rise to the occasion and finally take care of our own trash? And more importantly, should I keep putting my cans in the blue bin?