America’s Recycling Crisis: Let’s Keep Track of Our Trash
In early 2018, China passed a bill that forever changed the worlds’ recycling, leaving countries like the United States without any place to send their recyclables.
The National Sword policy, also known as the “Green Sword Act”, bans the acceptance of several types of solid waste, such as plastic. The act also places extremely strict limitations on the amount of any recyclables China accepts from foreign countries. Further, the quality of recyclable waste China accepts needs to meet higher standards. Greasy pizza boxes are no longer acceptable. Even a single piece of trash mixed in immediately disqualifies the entire load of recyclables, dooming it to the trash. Because there are fewer materials people can now recycle, it is quite easy to toss a non-reusable plastic carton into recycling, “contaminating” the entire load. Due to the increased limitations on what China now deems “recyclable,” we as a nation are unintentionally creating even more waste.
The stated purpose of this new policy is to improve China’s air quality and raise environmental standards. Unfortunately, this policy puts the United States and several other countries in a very complicated situation, as China bought our recyclables for the past twenty-five years. China now accepts only 1% of our plastic waste for recycling. No other country will buy large quantities of our plastic recyclables. The recycling market is quite expensive, and the US produces massive amounts of waste. When we take our blue bin to the curb with its week’s worth of recyclables - plastic bottles, the empty grape jelly jar, cardboard takeout bins - where is it going? Since no other country or corporation is offering to buy the recyclables, much of this material is being lumped in with the trash, and then sent off to the incinerator.
When Allison Mordas, my excellent Environmental Science teacher, explained what the National Sword policy meant for the United States, I was surprised and discouraged, but several questions also piqued my interest. What is the point of ‘going through the motions’ of recycling? Why are we still distinguishing the waste between a blue and green bin if it is all going to the same place? The United States is a consumer culture, and the amount of garbage we produce in just a day is absolutely ridiculous. Now all recyclables that could be salvaged and reused for another purpose get thrown into the incinerator, a process akin to the giant pit in Toy Story 3 where Woody and the gang almost burn to death. The incinerator burns the exponential amounts of trash we create in a giant fiery hole in the ground until it is reduced to ash, all while completely obliterating our atmosphere with the carbon that gets released. Any other form of disposal would be too expensive for any city to afford. However, cities do not want to say, “Put everything in one bin, as recycling is essentially pointless now.” Now that we have a sudden influx of waste to add to the incinerator, the future of air quality in the United States seems dark and gloomy. Pun intended.
America’s recycling crisis should not be blamed on China - a country no longer willing to be the world’s dump. Rather, the fault - and the responsibility to change - is entirely our own. We create the insane amount of trash in the first place, due to our “throw it away” culture. The first step is to lessen the amount of trash we create. There is no more justification for printing out a million copies in the library, or buying plastic Aquafina bottles with the excuse, “I’ll just recycle them after.” As a society, and as a school, let us make conscious decisions to minimize unnecessary garbage. Make the little effort that will pay off in the long run: print your paper double-sided to save a tree, or decline that plastic straw at a restaurant to save our sea turtles. Hopkins, let’s keep track of our trash.