Is Recycling Dead?
Your aluminum cans and empty peanut butter jars make it to the blue bin. If you're a boomer and still read the newspaper, your daily serving of overpriced corporate garba...err, media makes its way to the blue bin as well. You put your paper and plastics into the magical blue bin that will surely save our planet from destruction, as we've been told for decades. But, is recycling dead? Where does your recycling go? The first stop for your blue bin's contents is (or rather, used to be) a local recycling center. It was compacted and wrapped into tidy little 1-ton bundles. Then, it was shipped to...China? Formally known as the world's powerhouse of manufacturing, China was eager to buy our (and everyone else's) recycling to turn it into polyester socks, toys, and everything thing else you own with the "made in China" sticker on it. But they've moved on, and no longer wish to act as the blue bin of the world.
It turns out we actually weren't the dutiful planet savers we thought ourselves to be. In reality, recycling isn't as simple as we thought. Peanut butter jars and aluminum cans need to be thoroughly rinsed and cleaned before being recycled, or they could gum up the expensive processing machines. China used to take our nasty, unwashed bundles of recycling and clean them, by hand, with their cheap labor force. As China's economy evolved, it no longer wishes to do our dirty work for us. They've decided to stop buying our recycling, which means the contents of our planet saving blue bins no longer get turned into socks and phone cases. In 2019, they are actually more likely to end up in: By Cezary p - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4092940
Those evil, smelly mountains of trash you see on the side of the interstate? Those terrible by-products of society which forever clog our noses and skylines with garbage? In this series of blog posts, we will explore the 21st century of recycling and solid waste, and why it might not be as bad as you think.