One of many small Chinese recycling family businesses
America had a plan. Not to worry.
We had a secret, long term plan as to how this fair Republic would meet the challenge of China’ s rise to global power.
We would cover their countryside with our junk.
How many of you recycle, separating your garbage and putting those newspapers and ubiquitous plastic water bottles in a separate container so that they can be safely recycled? You presume, and have been told, that this stuff can be used again.
It is. Just not here.
Garbage has become America’s #1 export.
China’s top export to the U.S. is computers. America’s biggest export to China is scrap paper and metal — our cast-offs, their treasures. China makes products out of America’s waste, then sells the stuff back at enormous profit. America, the country that used to make things for the world, is now China’s trash compactor.
For decades, shipping containers have been loaded with American scrap and waste and dispatched to China for “recycling.”
It’s a $5 billion annual business that is now in danger of sinking.
Beijing notified the World Trade Organization in July that it plans to ban the import of 24 varieties of solid waste, including types of plastic and unsorted paper (the disposable packaging of our products we throw away) commonly sent from the U.S.
China said that the ban would take effect from September, giving American companies little time to prepare. It is estimated that roughly a fifth of the trade is at risk.
“The announcement has made U.S. recyclers that trade with China very nervous. “In the short term we’re going to see a significant drop of exports from the U.S. into China, and there is a little bit of panic in the market,” said Adina Adler, an official at the U.S. Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).
“We respect what the Chinese government is trying to do … and we want to be helpful, but they gave us practically no time for any kind of transition,” said Adler.”
The trade works like this: A huge number of container ships laden with consumer goods sail each year from China to American ports.
Container ship loaded with America’s garbage bound for Qingdao, Shandong Province
But the U.S. runs a massive trade deficit with China, and there is little demand for space on the return leg, or “backhaul.” As a result, shipping companies offer major discounts on return runs to China.
The dynamic has been a boon for the U.S. recycling industry, which has an abundance of the scrap metal, paper, plastic, rubber and electronics that Chinese recyclers crave.
Adam Minter, a journalist, explains in the book “Junkyard Planet” that it can be much cheaper to ship scrap from the U.S. to China than to send it by rail from Los Angeles to Chicago.
The Chinese government told the WTO that it had found large amounts of dirty and hazardous material mixed with solid waste, leading to serious environmental pollution.
China’s State Council said in a statement that it hoped to “reform … the management system of solid waste imports, promote the recycling use of domestic solid wastes, protect the ecological environment and people’s health.”
“The policy shift has sparked confusion in the industry, with American producers uncertain about when it will be implemented.
“The confusion it causes does as much damage to our markets as the policies themselves,” said Kevin Duncombe, president of independent recycler Western Pacific Pulp and Paper.
Tsk tsk. The Chinese may not want our garbage. Whatever shall we do?
The ban has already impacted trade with China. Chinese buyers are canceling orders, or not placing new ones, and in some cases they’re just not picking up shipments at the port.
ISRI (Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries) said it intends to fight the ban. No surprise there.
“China has an environmental crisis on their hands and they need to do something about it, but we don’t agree on imposing an outright ban,” said Adler. “That’s not the answer.”
American communities on average spend more on waste management than on fire protection, parks and recreation, libraries or schoolbooks. The biggest category of trash, more than 30% of what Americans buy then immediately throw away, is packaging and containers. All of it is theoretically recyclable, but most of it ends up buried in landfills anyway. Shipping it to China became a cheaper alternative.
The Los Angeles “mountain” of landfill – some 500 feet high and taller than most buildings in the city.
Americans make twice as much trash per person today as in 1960. Other prosperous countries make far less trash: the Japanese generate only 2.5 pounds per person daily while we are over 6 pounds a day per person.
Other countries are cracking the waste code, too. While America buries 69% of its waste in landfills every year (squandering raw materials worth an estimated $20 billion or more), Austria, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark have all cut landfilling below 4%, generating energy, heat and new products out of the very same stuff Americans throw away.
Zero waste doesn’t mean a zero economy. It means a different economy, with different winners. And fewer mountains of garbage.
If even China doesn’t want it anymore what are we going to do with all of our shit? Garbage is America’s biggest export, followed by weapons systems to arm the planet.
“Make America Great Again!”