When you drop those bottles and plastic containers off to be recycled, do you know where they go? The United States exports around one third of its recycling, and almost half of that heads over to China. But China recently decided to ban the import of some solid garbage, saying foreign waste often has too many hazardous or dirty non-recyclable items. This means some waste collection and recycling companies may have to resort to taking items that could have been recycled to a landfill.

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In filings with the World Trade Organization this summer, China said it would ban 24 kinds of solid trash “to protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health.” A July Waste360 article said the trash the country will ban includes “plastics waste from living sources, vanadium slag, unsorted waste paper, and waste textile materials.” The complete ban doesn’t go into effect until January 1, but some Chinese importers have not renewed licenses, according to NPR – and American recycling companies are already feeling the impacts.

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Related: We’ve made enough plastic trash to bury Manhattan under 2 miles of the stuff

Rogue Waste Systems in Oregon gathers recycling via curbside bins, and manager Scott Fowler told NPR there are always non-recyclable items mixed in with recyclables. China used to sort through it. But now the items don’t have a place to go. Recycling bales are piling up in Rogue Waste’s warehouse, and employee parking spaces have been consumed by compressed cubes of junk mail, broken wine bottles, and food containers. The company said they had no choice but to take the recycling to a nearby landfill. NPR reported over a dozen companies in the state have asked regulators if they can send recyclables to landfills.

Pioneer Recycling president Steve Frank said he’s moved materials to other countries, but “the rest of the world cannot make up that gap.”


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