NYT – Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not


I’ve always had my suspicions on recycling. Is it really treated differently, etc. Last year I caved in and asked my city to provide me with a recycling bin. I try to be careful on what I put in related to plastics, paper, etc. This article again raised flags. Cynically, if nothing else I get another trash bin to throw waste into and thus can get rid of more stuff…likely not what recycling is really after.

  • In recent months thousands of tons of material left curbside for recycling have gone to landfills
  • China announced last summer that it no longer wanted to import “foreign garbage.” 
  • waste managers have been unable to find a substitute for the Chinese market
  • China’s stricter requirements also mean that loads of recycling are more likely to be considered contaminated if they contain materials that are not recyclable
  • wishful or aspirational recycling: people setting aside items for recycling because they believe or hope they are recyclable, even when they aren’t
  • In Idaho, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii — local officials and garbage haulers no longer accept certain items for recycling, in some cases refusing most plastics, glass and certain types of paper…customers should throw these items in the trash
  • materials are winding up in landfills anyway
    • waste managers said they were concerned that if they told residents to stop recycling, it could be hard to get them to start again.
  • Recyclers in Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany and other parts of Europe have also scrambled to find alternatives
  • Countries like India, Vietnam and Indonesia are importing more of the materials
  • exports of scrap plastic to China, valued at more than $300 million in 2015, totaled just $7.6 million in the first quarter of this year, down 90 percent from a year earlier,
  • China  has demanded that other materials, such as cardboard and scrap metal, be only 0.5 percent impure
    • waste managers say that China’s new contamination standards are impossible to meet
  • Most contamination happens when people try to recycle materials they shouldn’t. Disposable coffee cups lined with a thin film that makes them liquid-proof but challenging and expensive to process …Unwashed plastics can also cause contamination

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