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US states banned from exporting their trash to China are drowning in plastic

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By Gwynn Guilford @sinoceros August 21, 2013

trash1.jpg?w=880

Being green is getting a lot harder for eco-friendly states in the US, thanks to the country’s dependency on overrun Chinese recycling facilities. Recycling centers in Oregon recently stopped accepting clear plastic “clamshell” containers used for berries, plastic hospital gowns and plastic bags, as the Ashland Daily Tidings reports. Yogurt and butter tubs are probably next. In Olympia, Washington, recycling centers are no longer accepting plastic bags. California’s farmers are grappling with what to do with the 50,000 to 75,000 tons of plastic they use each year.

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“The problem is we don’t have a market for it,” Jeff Hardwood, an Olympia-area recycling center manager, tells Washington state’s KIRO-TV. ”China is saying we are only going to accept the high-value material we have a demand for now.”

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Hardwood is referring to China’s “Green Fence” campaign banning “foreign garbage” (link in Chinese). China has rejected 68,000 tons (61,700 tonnes) of waste in the first five months of 2013, when the program was officially launched. The Green Fence initiative bans bales of plastic that haven’t been cleaned or thoroughly sorted. That type of recyclable material, which costs more to recycle, often ends up in China’s landfills, which have become a source of recent unrest in the country’s south.

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Instead of investing in the sorting and cleaning technologies required to process soiled and unsorted recyclables, which both China and the US have been reluctant to do, China’s Green Fence policy blocks the import of those plastics. As a result, US recycling centers that once accepted scrap plastic for recycling are being forced to send it to American landfills.

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As we’ve discussed before, Americans generally don’t recycle their plastic; they export it. And more than half of the $1 billion a year business goes to China.

us-exports-of-scrap-plastic_chartbuilder

Green Fence has contributed to the 11% decline in export value of US plastic scrap in the first half of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012. China’s customs data reflect that too. It imported 20% less plastic scrap in Q2 than the same quarter of 2012, a value of $300 million less.

china-s-scrap-plastic-imports-by-weight-

And yet, Chinese processing factories desperately need US plastic. Once reprocessed, it’s used to make everything from polar fleeces to stadium seats. China imports around 40% of the world’s plastic scrap, collecting the rest domestically. Now that China’s plastic scrap supply is being squeezed by Green Fence bans, plastics smuggling at ports and in cities (links in Chinese) is on the rise.

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For every ton of reusable plastic, China has received many more tons of random trash, some of it toxic. That has helped build “trash mountains” so high they sometimes bury people alive (link in Chinese). For a country facing environmentalcrisis after environmental crisis, this is no longer tenable.

trash2.jpg?w=1024&h=576

Because US trash exporters haven’t been forced to spend on technology or labor to sort and clean trash piled up at its recycling centers—Chinese laborers have handled that part—those shipments have been profitable for US exporters. But Green Fence is shifting those economic incentives; It costs the US around $2,100 per shipping container to return rejected trash to California ports.

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Those high costs may drive the US to expand its own recycling capacity. Until then, American pollution will no longer be piling up in China; It will be festering at home.


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why not clean and properly sort in the u.s? why not break down plastics in the us and then ship the raw finished product to china so they can use it to make everything we buy from walmart? makes no sense to me.

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why not clean and properly sort in the u.s? why not break down plastics in the us and then ship the raw finished product to china so they can use it to make everything we buy from walmart? makes no sense to me.

We have the capability to do it, but it takes $$$. And this Green Fence that China has in place is set to expire in November. So it's not a good economic business decision to process it here.

A better alternative in the mean time may be to make energy with it.

Plastics are made up of petroleum or natural gas, which means they have a high stored energy value.

Energy Values Material Btu/pound Plastics PET 10,900 HDPE 18,700 Other Plastic Containers 16,400 Other Plastics 17,900 Rubber & Leather 12,800 Newspaper 8,000 Corrugated Boxes (paper) 7,000 Textiles 9,400 Wood 7,300 Average for MSW 5,900 Yard Wastes 2,900 Food Wastes 2,900 Heat Content of Common Fuels Fuel Oil 20,900 Wyoming Coal 9,600

http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=793&navItemNumber=1124

Today's WTE(waste to energy facilities) are much more modern and have little resemblance to yesteryears incinerators. The EPA did a study and found that WTE has less of a total impact on the environment than landfilling our waste does.

In the end, what the scientists found was that burning waste is often the better option. Results of EPA’s research estimate that WTE (burning) is capable of producing up to about 10 times more electricity than LFGTE (burying) from the same amount of waste.

The findings for greenhouse gas emissions were particularly interesting: Even with optimum conditions for capturing methane generated from buried waste, the study showed that, per unit electricity generated, greenhouse gases emissions from landfills are two to six times higher than those generated from plants that burn waste.

http://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/april2010/scinews_energy-from-waste.htm

We recycle so much plastic here, that if China kept up the Green Fence we'd have to landfill it or burn it. We can't absorb it all, because we don't manufacture enough to utilize it all.

IMHO :It would be a good thing if the Green Fence was kept in place- it would make us all(consumers and producers) look at our practices and find a way to make things more sustainable.


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I am totally against recycling. It is just another form of big business. I refuse to separate my garbage. Platic needs to be banned.

Look at McDonalds now jumping on the bandwagon and changing the color of their store to green rather than red, in order to appear more "green" in the UK. Also their introduction of piss poor salads into their menus.

Kudos to China. The levels of pollution especially PM2.5 there is troubling to say the least.

Edited by Jacque67

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I am totally against recycling. It is just another form of big business. I refuse to separate my garbage. Platic needs to be banned.

recycling is smart. refusing to recycle is sort of like refusing to use a toilet and instead relieving yourself wherever you sit.

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I am totally against recycling. It is just another form of big business. I refuse to separate my garbage. Platic needs to be banned.

Look at McDonalds now jumping on the bandwagon and changing the color of their store to green rather than red, in order to appear more "green" in the UK. Also their introduction of piss poor salads into their menus.

Kudos to China. The levels of pollution especially PM2.5 there is troubling to say the least.

what is Platic ???

is that like exciting ?

Guess everyone is not a college Prof HUH?

That is the bad part about lamer grammar flames

They usually bite you in the buttocks sooner or latter.

plastic works well in the burn barrel here.

Did that yesterday

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There is a huge difference between mistyping a word or making a spelling mistake and making grammatical errors. Grammatical errors can make it extremely difficult to understand what the person is trying to say, although normally it is possible to work it out, spelling errors and typos really do not affect understanding one iota.


Refusing to use the spellchick!

I have put you on ignore. No really, I have, but you are still ruining my enjoyment of this site. .

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