On May 29, 2018, the newspaper The New York Times published two articles on recycling and the challenges currently faced by the recycling industry in the U.S. and around the world.

In the first article, journalist Livia Albeck-Ripka focused on China’s ban on ‘foreign garbage’ that entered into force January 1, 2018. China “banned imports of various types of plastic and paper, and tightened standards for materials it does accept,” Albeck-Ripka informed. About one third of the materials collected for recycling in the U.S. are exported and the majority of the exports used to go to China for processing, she further explained. After the ban was implemented, U.S. scrap exports to China decreased by about 35%. Some waste managers are now sending their recyclables to domestic processors or to other countries (e.g., India, Vietnam, Indonesia). However, other recycling services are struggling to find a substitute for the Chinese market and therefore, many recyclables now end up in landfills. Waste managers react differently to the changes. Some no longer accept certain items for recycling and tell customers to throw them in the trash. Others encourage their customers to collect and separate recyclables as usual, regardless of whether the materials will be sent to processors or to landfills. “Local waste managers said they were concerned that if they told residents to stop recycling, it could be hard to get them to start again,” Albeck-Ripka reported.

In the second article, Albeck-Ripka addresses the phenomenon of ‘aspirational recycling’ or ‘wishful recycling.’ This is the case when people put items in the recycling bin that they believe or hope can be recycled, but these items are non-recyclable in reality. Examples are disposable cups, greasy pizza boxes, yoghurt cups (and other non-recyclable plastics), takeout containers contaminated with food residues, plastic bags, and dirty diapers. “[P]utting these objects in with the rest of the recycling can do more harm than good,” Albeck-Ripka pointed out. Non-recyclables can contaminate a batch of recycling, meaning that “waste managers might not be able to find buyers for the materials — especially now that China, one of the world’s main importers of recyclable waste, has said it will reject shipments that are more than 0.5 percent impure,” she further explained. Ultimately, contaminated recycling loads might end up in landfills instead.

Read more

Livia Albeck-Ripka (May 29, 2018). “Your recycling gets recycled, right? Maybe, or maybe not.The New York Times

Livia Albeck-Ripka (May 29, 2018). “6 things you’re recycling wrong.The New York Times