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Plastics Ping-Pong: China Reverses Its Recycling Policy

May 29, 2015 11:12AM

Plastic items we carefully separate from the rest of the trash and put in a distinct container may have a dubious fate, according to environmental watchdog Quartz. U.S. recycling companies have largely stayed away from accepting plastic, and most of it has been shipped to China, where it can be processed more cheaply. But China has announced a new Green Fence policy (Tinyurl.com/ChinaGreenFence), prohibiting importation of much of the plastic for recycling that it once received.

Plastic categories #3 through #7 (shampoo bottles to butter tubs) may go into domestic landfills again until a solution is found, says David Kaplan, CEO of Maine Plastics, a post-industrial recycler.

China controls a large portion of the recycling market, importing about 70 percent of the world’s 500 million tons of electronic waste and 12 million tons of plastic waste each year. These Chinese policy changes will put pressure on Western countries to reconsider their reliance on this formerly cost-effective practice of exporting waste and the necessity for increasing their domestic recycling infrastructure.

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