Monday, October 28, 2013

Your Trash Needs a Passport...(a lot of recycling goes to China)

So, we were curious.  We took a moment to think about where some of our garbage goes.  When I say garbage, I mean that purely as the things we throw away regardless of whether or not they are actually waste.  We were actually at a facility that does not really process its waste efficiently.  They would like to and we are working on that, but for the time being, not so much.  We will get into that later.

We wondered what happened to the boxes and for that matter a lot of the recyclables that were going "away".  I have to admit, I was really surprised at the answer that we got.  The initial call to the recycling company resulted in an "I don't know." when asked where it was going, but it got another phone number.  The next number led to another "I don't know," but still got a little further.  It appears that it goes overseas; namely, to China.

I liked to think of myself as pretty eco-literate and I have to admit that I did not know that.  Later, I took to researching how this was justified.  The initial thought was that this seems REALLY inefficient and wasteful.  Aren't there processing plants here in the good old U. S. of A.?  The short answer is yes, but here is the logic.  Apparently, they use the same ships to ship this cardboard and other stuff to China as they do to bring stuff back.  The idea is that it is economical to use these ships to haul this stuff there, for it to be turned into packaging and carpet and other products so that those ships do not have to return to China empty.

Part of me understood that, still part of me was unsatisfied.  Further research shows that now, even China is getting full and cannot use all of the waste that we are shipping to them.  They will no longer purchase it and are very likely to reject a lot of it.  Basically, your cardboard and more is being collected and shipped back and forth across the ocean.

China has apparently created a "Green Fence", locking out a lot of waste that the U.S. is sending over there because they cannot use it.  They have a need for plastic resin, but aside from that, the U.S. is basically producing far too much for them to use.  It is collected from your from stoop, shipped to China, shipped back and thrown in landfills.  China's Green Fence rejects poorly cleaned recyclables an rather than engage in cleaning the waste themselves, they ship it back.   China's processing of recyclables is pretty questionable also.  The recycling there is done mainly by family businesses using very low tech methods and unskilled labor.

So what does this mean for us?  Well, the main thing, as I understand it, is that we have to get better at reusing our own stuff.  We have to take an active role in reusing our own material.  Perhaps our own Green Revolution is near at hand.  This stuff is no longer just washing up on shores of beaches that people no longer go to, it is being hand delivered via large ships wrapped in the same package we send it off in.

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