Quantcast

U.S. Recyclers in 'Mounting Crisis' After China's Plastic Waste Ban

Popular
A recycling center worker separates plastic and aluminum materials into different bins. U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue

After China's crackdown on foreign waste earlier this year, the United States has turned to poorer countries mostly in Southeast Asia to send its used plastics, according to a new report.

This research, authored by Greenpeace's investigative team Unearthed, is the first comprehensive analysis of where U.S. recyclers are sending its trash since China introduced the ban, which took effect on Jan. 1.


Citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the researchers found a year-on-year drop of 92 percent in the amount of plastic sent to China and Hong Kong. That corresponded to a dramatic increase of scraps being sent instead to Thailand (1,985 percent), Malaysia (273 percent) and Vietnam (46 percent).

"It is an embarrassment that the government of one of the most powerful countries in the world feels it must depend on others to take out our trash," said Greenpeace Oceans campaign director John Hocevar in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. "This is a wake up call for corporations, and the governments that allow this practice, to stop producing packaging and products that no one is willing to properly dispose of. It makes no sense to keep making products that we use once and throw away out of material that lasts forever."

"In the first six months of this year, 81% of plastic waste exports from the US went to Asia, a 7% drop on 2017."—UnearthedGreenpeace

Due to this massive influx of trash, the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have recently implemented their own policies to restrict the world's waste.

Roughly 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the world's oceans every year, with the majority of this waste coming from Asian countries, a 2015 study found.

As China and Southeast Asian countries focus on their own pollution problems, exporting countries are

scrambling for solutions for their growing stockpiles of trash.

"With these Southeast Asian countries moving to impose import restrictions and plastic scrap piling up from California to Florida, the U.S. recycling industry is talking about a mounting crisis in the country," the Unearthed report says.

The researchers found that plastic waste exports in the U.S. dropped by almost a third, from 949,789 metric tons in 2017 to 666,760 metric tons in 2018. That means about 280,000 metric tons of plastic is no longer being exported by the U.S., and has not been accounted for, Greenpeace said.

The pile-up has resulted in various schemes, including recyclables being directly sent to landfills, as Unearthed wrote:

In towns and cities across the U.S., firms have been taking a variety of steps to deal with the backlog. Some have suspended their recycling schemes, begun education campaigns or refused to accept certain types of plastic waste. Others have refused to pick up rubbish from outside houses, sent recycling to landfill or burned it.

By 2030, an estimated 111 million metric tons of single-use drink bottles, food containers and other plastic junk will be displaced around the globe due to China's ban on other countries' trash, according to a paper from University of Georgia researchers.

Environmentalists are calling on a significant reduction on the use and production of nonrecyclable materials.

"We know that our waste ends up in countries that lack the infrastructure to process foreign waste, or gets dumped in U.S. landfills," Greenpeace plastics campaigner Kate Melges said in the press release. "As cities and states around the country increasingly suspend or reduce their recycling programs, it's time to stop churning out so much plastic to begin with."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Beachgoers enjoying a pleasant evening on Georgia's St. Simons Island rushed into the water, despite warnings of sharks, to rescue dozens of short-finned pilot whales that washed ashore on Tuesday evening, according to the New York Times.

Read More Show Less

Six Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested as they blocked off corporations in the UK. The group had increased their actions to week-long nationwide protests.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Sari Goodfriend

By Courtney Lindwall

Across the world, tens of thousands of young people are taking to the streets to protest climate inaction. And at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem last month, more than a dozen of them took to the stage.

Read More Show Less
Pumpjacks on Lost Hills Oil Field in California. Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Conley

A national conservation group revealed Wednesday that President Donald Trump's drilling leases on public lands could lead to the release of more carbon emissions than the European Union contributes in an entire year.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixabay

By Marlene Cimons

For nearly a century, scientists thought that malaria could only spread in places where it is really hot. That's because malaria is spread by a tiny parasite that infects mosquitoes, which then infect humans — and this parasite loves warm weather. In warmer climates, the parasite grows quickly inside the mosquito's body. But in cooler climates, the parasite develops so slowly that the mosquito will die before the it is fully grown.

Read More Show Less
The summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians. Charmian Vistaunet / Design Pics / Getty Images

A decade-long fight over the proposed construction of a giant telescope on a mountain considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians came to a head Wednesday when 33 elders were arrested for blocking the road to the summit, HuffPost Reported.

Read More Show Less
A boy walks past a plastic-choked canal in in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Jan. 17, 2019. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP / Getty Images

Cambodia is the latest Asian country to reject the wealthy world's plastic waste.

Read More Show Less