China No Longer Accepts our Recycling, Now What?

You may have heard the news, China has refused to take much of the waste and recycling from the United States, putting consumers and waste management companies in a pinch. In recent months there has been a renewed energy about reducing waste in our lives, whether that be images of whales with bellies full of coffee cup lids and plastic water bottles, or the waste associated with our fast fashion lifestyle.

We’ve got a consumption problem, and China’s no longer playing clean up.

Wait, we used to send our recycling to China?

Many people assume that the recycling they send to their local waste management is recycled nearby and made into Nike’s latest shoes. The reality of the fact is until recently, we sent a lot of our recycling to China, paying them to take care of our waste. Due to the high volume of waste and recycling we’ve been sending China over the years, we have been officially cut off.

What products is China refusing?

Last year China refused to accept shipments of 24 types of hazardous waste including paper and plastic products, according to CNN. The list was extended recently as China added including car parts, old ships and other recyclable materials.

What does this mean for the recycling you so diligently sort?

Many of this recycling will be put in the landfill as it was back in the early 80s…sigh.

What can you do?

There are many steps we can take to reduce the amount of waste we create.

  • Think about plastic water bottles, cans, and paper as waste, rather than recyclable. If you remember, recycling was the third “R” in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is intentional, since we no longer have the luxury to think of traditionally recyclable materials as green, or “taken care of” at the end of their lifecycle.
  • Reduce the amount of things you consume, across the board. Do you need it?
  • Switch from cans and bottles of sparkling water (LaCroix addiction anyone?) to a Soda Stream, which drastically cuts down on excess waste from sparkling water.
  • Buy bulk products from the grocery store, brining your own bags or jars to fill up on oats, nuts, beans and other dried food products.
  • Only buy clothes when you really need them, and always consider thrifting or shopping consignment first. There are many fun companies (online or in person) who upcycle fashionable work appropriate clothing.
  • Avoid getting a new computer or cell phone whenever you want. These complex electronics are not easy to recycle (especially now) and extract rare earth minerals.
  • Skip the plastic straw or coffee cup lid. 

What are some of your favorite ways to reduce your impact?

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