Is the U.S. undergoing a recycling crisis?

September 2, 2019

Source: Huffington Post: Why Southeast Asia is flooded with Trash from America and other wealthy nations - https://www.huffpost.com/entry/malaysia-plastic-recycling_n_5c7f64a9e4b020b54d7ffdee

 

 

When people recycle, they generally believe they’re helping to save the planet. It helps to reduce the need for raw materials, which are mined or logged. Recycling helps to decrease this activity, thereby reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions and helping the environment. What most people don’t know (and some ignore) is that despite their efforts to recycle, what happens after is equally as important. In the U.S., recycling is picked up and brought to recycling centres where most of it is then put into containers and shipped to other countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand and India to be sorted. However, now that China has refused to accept anymore of the United States’ rubbish and other Asian countries are imposing more restrictive policies, the U.S. is now having to deal with more waste than before – and it keeps growing.

 

So why won’t China – among others – take their rubbish? What most Americans don’t know is that most of their waste is given to the towns of poor developing countries, where the waste is then sorted by the locals who have to live with the trash right outside their door. Although this work has allowed some to make enough money to send their children to school  and live better lives, this kind of environment has proven to be detrimental to their health and governments are starting to take notice. Furthermore, The New York Times reporter Michael Corkery has reported that at least part of the reason that American waste isn’t wanted is because of improper recycling. Only certain materials – marked with a triangular recycling symbol normally on the back of the item – should be placed in the recycling bin and only after being properly washed and dried. It seems that most people try to recycle, but don’t really know what materials should or should not be placed where. Some might say that improper recycling is worse than not recycling at all. The added effort of having to sort through the rubbish as well as the negative impact on the health of the locals is why China and other Asian countries are now refusing to take in the United States’ recycling. 

 

Without anywhere else for the waste-filled containers to go, they were returned to the U.S. who were left with more waste than they planned to have and not enough tools or manpower to deal with the problem. In order to at least curb the situation, the remaining Asian countries including Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand have been receiving more waste than before, further creating health problems for the local inhabitants there and destroying the landscape. The waste that isn’t shipped overseas however, is what remains the problem. Some states have turned to putting all their waste in landfill and not recycling at all. According to The Atlantic, the sudden increase in waste quantity alongside a drop in the market has forced several waste companies to raise recycling prices and people can’t afford to pay. As more and more waste is placed in landfill and burned, harmful toxic gases and pollutants are released into the atmosphere. What started off as an attempt by the people to help the environment has now turned into an act of destruction.

 

Another solution that the U.S. has found to solve this problem is robots. Companies are now trying to develop enough robots that will be able to sort out recyclables from landfill and into different materials such as plastics, paper, tin and so on. There would be little room for error and would reduce the risk of contamination or other health hazards that humans would most likely have from working in such conditions. Whilst this seems promising, U.S. citizens shouldn’t be completely reliant on the work of the robots. Indeed, it will be many years before enough of them are released and distributed to effectively handle the amount of waste produced in all the different states. People should learn how to recycle properly and companies should not have to make people pay more to properly throw away their waste.


 

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