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HAWAII AND CALIFORNIA HARDEST HIT FROM CHINA’S RECYCLING RESTRICTIONS

climate change

By Alex Mardikian

China’s restrictions on accepting trash for recycling has hit the U.S hard. Hawaii and California are two of the hardest-hit states. In 2016, the U.S earned around $6 billion in foreign exchange by shipping out trash to China for recycling. Of this amount, California shipped recyclable trash worth around $2.4 billion.

This year, the trade has come almost to a standstill. The loss in foreign exchange; however, is the least of America’s problems. The nation is struggling with burgeoning stacks of trash. Municipality-backed and private recyclers cannot cope. Many are shutting shop, and a lot of the trash is being diverted to landfills.

While states like California and Oregon are taking a hit because they dealt heavily in recyclable goods with China; Hawaii is struggling because of stringent Chinese conditions about the acceptable levels of impurities. The extent of recycling possible on Hawaii is insufficient to tackle the waste generated. Hawaii will either have to bury the waste or ship it elsewhere. Large-scale recycling is not possible for the islands.

Around 22 million tons of recyclable materials were being exported annually by America. These constituted around one-third of the total material that America recycles each year. The strict import rules unveiled by China in 2017 have come as a jolt out of the blue for the American recycling industry.

The global impact of China’s decision can be gauged from the fact that in 2016, China processed around half of the global exports of paper, plastics, and metals. It amounted to 7.3 million tons.

The initial ban by China covered 24 items, including unsorted waste paper and waste textile materials. Now, the list of banned items has been expanded to include 32 types of scrap materials, including scrap metals and wood scrap.

As if the ban wasn’t bad enough, China has introduced narrow and strict contamination limits, for example, 0.5% for materials such as cardboard. Bales of materials with contamination limits exceeding these figures are rejected by the Chinese importers.