China’s trash ban hits US

Global Business

While the trade war between China and the U.S. continues to garner headlines, there’s another U.S. export that’s grounded to a halt this year – recyclable waste.

As part of its “National Sword” policy announced last year, China drastically limited what type of foreign recycled waste it would accept.

While some local U.S. waste management services have blamed China for the change, others said it’s forced America to come to grips with its own problem.

CGTN’s Mark Niu reports.

In California’s Monterey County, workers at the material recoveries facility are busier than ever. Director of Operations Tim Brownell said in recent years 30 percent of all waste paper and 60 percent of all plastics recovered in the United States were shipped to China. But he said China’s new policies only allow for accepting cardboard, newspaper, and number one and two plastics – but only if they don’t contain more than ½ of a percent of contamination.

“The problem has also been mixed up with some of the rhetoric and trade war issues. So in the month of May, China actually stopped, put an embargo and stopped accepting for 30 days any recyclable material at all from the United States,” said Tim Brownell, Dir. of Operations for the Materials Recovery Facility at Monterey Regional Waste. “We have not resumed shipping anything to them.”

You might think Brownell would have harsh words for China.He doesn’t.

“We were just trying to move volume through the system and not creating the best product to make new materials from,” said Brownell. “And China was suffering the consequences, up to 30% of what was being shipped to them was not recyclable.”

But it’s a difficult transition for the U.S. to deal with massive amounts of waste, such as plastic film that can jam machines here. And there’s currently no market for it in the U.S. At the facility, we saw lots of plastic film wrapping that came from one of America’s largest bagged salad producers, Taylor Farms.

“It’s critical to our business right now, because the plastics we use right now let oxygen come into that bag at a controlled rate to keep that lettuce breathing and respiring,” said Bruce Taylor, Founder & CEO of Taylor Farms. “We’re looking at plastics that are biodegradable or that have maybe a one year life and then they just kind of dissolve. That’s another area of innovation and opportunity that is tremendous.”

“People in the industry knew that we were reliant on the health of Chinese markets,” said Bruce Olszewski, the Director of the Center for Development of Recycling at San Jose State University. “Yet despite having all that time — more like 30 years we’ve had time to develop markets here in the U.S.– there was no action.”

San Jose State University lecturer Bruce Olszewski said it’s up to government to help develop new markets and for industry to respond.

“The solution is to make industry responsible for the materials that they create,” said Olszewski. “So if industry can work to close open loops, they will create more jobs, they will reduce pollutants.”

Despite the pressure the U.S. waste disposal system is under, Olszewski said there’s no better opportunity for innovators to help design new tech and new market conditions for the benefit of future generations.