Ever think about where your recyclables
go after the blue bin? Well, for a long time, about
a fifth of American mixed recyclables were heading across the
sea to China. That makes sense since China has
the largest manufacturing output in the world and they need the
scrap material to create all your favorite paper and plastic items. However, following a public awareness
campaign, an outcry from Chinese citizens ignited in some
cases by the documentary Plastic China. The country implemented a
series of policies called Green Fence National Sword and Blue Sky
to stop your curbside pickup from ending up in unmanageable
quantities in China. The world’s largest paper
consumer radically changed their specification, and they’ve basically set
a standard that’s, if not impossible, sort of effectively
impossible to achieve. Rest assured, goods are
still being recycled. They became a buyer’s market. But communities and industry organizations
now have to pay processing plants to take the goods instead
of selling the scrap material for profit profit. In 2017 mixed
paper, which is everything but cardboard, was trading at roughly
$90 dollars a ton. Currently, it’s trading
at roughly nothing. These changes have created a bright
spot in the industry for new development in areas where China has
left a plastic water bottle shaped hole. In fact, some
Chinese corporations are investing in recycling facilities in Maine
and West Virginia. National Sword has been a major benefit
to our business model and we think long term will be
a tremendous benefit to recycling infrastructure and circular economy
development in North America. Changes in Chinese policies has
really focused attention and energy, and I’m also glad to say
innovation on the topic of recycling. In total, resource recycling found
the impact of China’s new recycling policies created over 4.4 billion dollars of investment
in the U.S., which is supporting over
3000 American jobs. Since China stopped purchasing American
scrap materials, why are Chinese companies investing in
recycling in the U.S.? To understand why China stop processing
a large portion of global recyclables, we need to review
why they started collecting it. Many American communities had adopted
single stream recycling for its ease of use and collection. That is when residents place plastics,
metal and glass into one typically blue bin. When your materials
are collected at the curb, they are then taken to a
facility and they’re sorted out automatically. We were essentially offshoring
our labor of sorting these materials to China. While this method encourages more
participation in recycling, it also increases the amount of contamination
in what is recycled. Contamination occurs when non-recyclable
items are collected alongside recycled items. When they’ve been placed in the wrong
bin or when soiled products say a dirty food container is
placed in the recycling bin. Effectively, what the Chinese were saying
was that the US recycling industry was sending in recyclables that
were also stuffed with a lot of garbage and a lot of that
developed because the Chinese for so long had such an insatiable
appetite for our recyclable commodities. They would take a
higher level of contamination. Now keep in mind that as a dealer
by dealer, not a a MRF to country, do you know this isn’t a policy,
t his is just how the market behaved. The materials that we were
sending over to China, their allowable contamination levels were around the
3 to 5 percent range historically, that was
the industry standard. A twenty eighteen study showed that
China had imported a cumulative 45 percent of plastic
waste since 1992. And in 2016, 72 percent of all U.S. plastics scrap exports
went to China. At one time during the peak, we
exported about 30 percent of our material, the recycled paper
material into China. That’s down to less than 3 percent. About half of the paper that we
received from the city was going to China. All that was made much easier
by the trade deficit with China, which has topped over $300
billion every year since 2012. We import a great deal of manufactured
goods from China and they come on ships with big containers. Those containers were going back empty
before the rise of recycling. In fact, Public Radio International estimated
that the US was sending nearly 4000 shipping containers of
recyclable goods to China every day. For us, there is always more
value in that material to be able to recycle it as opposed to
putting it in a landfill. Organizations like Waste Management worked
with brokers to send their recyclables overseas where they would get
a better price for the goods. It was a an aphorism in the recycling industry is that China
had the most stringent environmental laws in place. They
just didn’t enforce them. Well, that changed beginning in
2013 with a Customs Enforcement action called Operation
Green Fence. Laws regarding specific environmental regulations
were passed in 2006 and 2010, and the country began
an official crackdown in February 2013. Companies were importing dirty
bales from the United States, using the recyclables and then just
discarding the garbage in a river, the ocean, a street corner. In 2017, China announced a set
of even stricter restrictions on specific recovered materials
called National Sword. Including recovered mixed paper, many
types of plastics and textiles. One of the things that drove
National Sword was the increasing expectation of Chinese citizens to have
a better standard of living. China set the maximum contamination
level for loads of recyclables, not fully banned to
point five percent. They’ve basically set a standard that’s,
if not impossible, sort of effectively impossible to achieve a sort
of a half a percent contamination rate. And so from going from 4 5
percent non acceptable material to a half a percent overnight caused the
turmoil in the recycling markets. The Chinese decided that they wanted
to stay highly focused on recycled commodities, but didn’t want
any of America’s garbage. And so they put that policy in
place, which I think caused some short term pain in the
American recycling industry. Recovered plastic shipments to China,
dropped about ninety nine percent from twenty seventeen
to twenty eighteen. However, recyclable scrap materials are
still being collected, so the industry is starting to adapt. You got a lot more environmental,
economic and job benefits out of recycling than you do out of just
throwing something in a hole in the ground. It’s because of, you know,
this recognition that was in large part prompted by China’s Sword, that
the enthusiasm for really taking a good hard look at the
America recycling system has started. We’ve had to
find alternative markets. So while Waste Management’s a
North American company, we actually have offices in China, in
Southeast Asia and South America. And so we had relationships with paper
mills that we have called on to say, hey, can you take some of
the material now that China is not accepting it anymore. For a short while, other countries
in Southeast Asia, like Vietnam, India and Indonesia, accepted some of
the recycling bales that China refused. However, many of those ports
are ill equipped to handle such a mass import of scrap materials
and have begun following China’s example in setting stricter
standards and bans. Materials are finding homes, it’s just
that the value has plummeted. So you even saw Malaysia send
materials back mixed plastics back to the countries of origin U.K., France and the U.S. as well as Canada, but also the
the long lasting impacts of National Sword and Blue, you know, Blue Sky
and Green Fence a nd China’s scrap ban is that those countries feel that
they can push back on what the materials are that are coming
back into their system. Long term, it’s going to be a
major benefit because it’s go nna force the industry to be much, much
more efficient, produce a much higher quality product that we’ll actually be
able to be used in domestic manufacturing supply chains. Well, the real focus of EPA’s
work is focusing on the U.S. system and building a system that
is more resilient to both changes in international markets, but also
and critically, changes in this stream of materials that
are available for recycling. New American sorting facilities are opening
up to process the scrap material. And American companies are
investing in updating their materials recovery facilities or MRFs
to meet the new standards. In fact, in total, we
see more than $4.4 billion dollars of investment, of
opening new new facilities, reopening facilities or retooling existing
facilities to be able to take in that material from the
mixed paper or cardboard streams. And that is supporting over 3000
jobs here in the U.S. We can still get to that that
very strict quality that our our customers demand of us
at this point. And so we’ve done a lot
of investments in new recycling facilities, in robotics, in new optical sorting
technology and so we’ve really gone after the technology side to help
solve the problem as well as education. We started sorting to
domestic specifications about 6 7 years ago before the most
recent Chinese restrictions came on. Nine dragons seems to be very
aggressive in investing in American recycling infrastructure. They’re developing a number of
paper recycling and pulping projects in the United States in order to
bring that recycled pulp back into China. Paper giant N.D., owned by Nine Dragons Paper,
recently opened mills in Maine, Wisconsin and West Virginia. While their operations combined virgin
and recycled goods, according to N.D. their Fairmont, West Virginia
mill has the capacity for 240000 tons of recycled pulp. Industry is stepping up and
investing here, both overseas industry like China, but also existing paper
and plastics recyclers here in the United States. Phoenix Paper
Company, a subsidiary of Chinese company Shanying International, recently opened
a paper mill in Kentucky. They announced that in 2021,
the company plans to expand the Kentucky mill to
include a recycling facility. They’ve invested 200 million dollars in
the project that will create an additional 150 jobs in the area. One of the reasons behind China’s
support in the recycling system is they have fewer forests as a natural
resource to be able to to make paper and pulp out of s
o they’re coming to the U.S. Since they still have tremendous appetite
for recycled paper it’s the pulp that is now being exported to
China, which is a way for the Chinese to get access to this
recycled paper that they value without the contamination that they
were so concerned about. Time will tell if these new
facilities are successful, but they are creating jobs here in the U.S. The paper mill jobs are good,
hard jobs that have buoyed communities around the United States
since its inception. In twenty nineteen, there is over
$3 billion invested in recycling and certain economy infrastructure in the
United States, which is and will continue to drive
major job growth. Ultimately, the good environmental benefits
of recycling don’t happen when you and I put it in that cart
or they’re picked up by a truck or even when they’re sorted out, it’s
when it replaces new material in the circular economy that you get the
benefits and it has to be clean for it to be that
displace that new material. Collaboration between the people at each
end of a product’s life will help reduce the burden on individual
consumers and create a more circular economy. We need to both be
able to design things so they can properly go through
the recycling system. It’s communicated to consumers like you
and I on how to recycle properly, but also that there’s enough
demand for the materials to, as we say at the industry, to
pull it through the system because somebody needs to buy that stuff for
it to become that circular loop. For too long t here’s been
a major disconnect between product designers, brands, recycling facilities
and then who manufactures products. They’ve unfortunately been operating
in their own silos. A lot of what we do as a
leader in developing the circular economy is connecting all of those organizations
that are actually hyper dependent on each other. One thing that EPA did was to
hold the first ever national recycling summit back in November of 2018. And then that progressed to the
recycling summit that we had held here in Washington, DC, where we
then issued the national recycling framework. And so a lot of activity
now is ongoing to look across the recycling system to improve it. And really ultimately recycling is about
a market and what a market can bear. And the
market basically is changing. It’s forcing everybody to focus
on efficiency, product design, reuse of material. The innovation that I’m confident
that the American recycling system will produce will have
some really excellent results.

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100 thoughts on “Why China Stopped Buying U.S. Recycling”

  1. Cutting our trees…..OMG! Booming Economy of few hundred jobs over the natural resources.. China is using our natural resources.

  2. There's job for Mexico…should we tell Mexico's politicians that their job is to create jobs for its citizens IN MEXICO?

  3. Condo, townhome, and apartment communities aren't set up for roadside pick up of recycling…most just have a community dumpster (that people from outside the community dump their garbage in).

  4. Good. Hopefully the policy changes by China and other garbage/recycling-destination countries will force Western consumer and recycling industries to become more efficient and less wasteful in their manufacturing and packaging practices. No country should be outsourcing its waste management to another.

  5. Recycling does not accept wine and liquor bottles anymore. In California if it doesn't have Cal-CRV on it, they don't accept it or any milk plastic containers.

  6. Canada and Australia was caught sending tons of their trash to East Asian countries polluted with chemicals.

  7. Surprised the US gov didn't say WE STOPPED SENDING THEM OUR CRAP TO STOP THEM KNOWING WHAT WE EAT, DATA PROTECTION, NATIONAL SECURITY!!!!!!!

  8. WHAT EVER WE EAT WE DRINK IMPACT PROFOUNDLY TO FORMING CERTAIN CHARACTERISTICS LIKE PIG FOOD PRODUCTS REDUCES HUMAN EMOTIONAL SENSITIVITY, CAUSES NUMBNESS IN THE NERVES AND CAUSES MUSCLES TO BLOAT RESULTING IN FLABBY NESS = OBESITY THUS WE BECOME LESS AND LESS EMOTIONALLY CONNECTED TO ONE ANOTHER THAT IS WHY EGGS AND BACON WAS IMMENSELY PROMOTED BY AUTHORITIES IN THE 1950S AND 1960S ALONG WITH SMOKING CIGARETTES SPECIALLY FOR WOMEN. ALCOHOL, ASPARTAME IN SOFT DRINKS ENERGY DRINKS AND FLUORIDE IN OUR WATER SUPPLIES PARALYZE OUR PINEAL GLAND = 3RD EYE WHICH SHUTS DOWN OUR CAPABILITIES OF SELF THINKING SELF IMAGINATION RECOGNITION OF REALITY AND FAKERY. DOLPHINS AND WHALES ARE EMOTIONALLY CLOSEST CONNECTED LIVING BEINGS TO US HUMANS AND THEY SUFFER EQUALLY ALL THE TRIBULATIONS INFLICTED UPON US HUMANS, EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS ARE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE UNIVERSAL STRING WHICH KEEP US ALL CONNECTED AND AS LONG OUR HEARTS ARE IN CONTROL OF US NOT OUR BRAINS BECAUSE BRAINS HAVE THE CAPACITY OF BETRAYAL BUT HEARTS DONT AND IT IS OUR HEARTS THAT KEEP US CONNECTED TO OUR ETERNAL OUR HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS NO WONDER WHY HEART NEVER THINKS IT ALWAYS AND ONLY KNOWS BEYOND 5 SENSE REALITY WHICH IS THE FRONTLINE BETWEEN WHAT WE PERCEIVE AS POSSIBLE AND IMPOSSIBLE.

    HUMANS THAT STAND FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS AND MORALITY AGAINST EVILS WILL BE TRIED TO GET DISPOSED OFF BECAUSE EVILS CANT CONQUER OUR CONSCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY UNLESS WE ALLOW IT OURSELVES AND HUMANS THAT GET SOLD OUT WILL BE USED WILL BE ABUSED AND THEN WILL GET DISPOSED OFF. ALL SUFFERINGS DEPRIVATIONS TRIBULATIONS ARE NOT NATURAL DESIGN AND PERCEIVED TO BE PART OF LIFE BUT INFACT DELIBERATELY INFLICTED UPON HUMANS BY NON HUMAN ELITE FAMILIES AS THESE ELITE FAMILIES CONTROL EVERY ASPECT OF HUMAN LIVES. INJUSTICE TO ONE ANYWHERE IS INJUSTICE TO EVERYONE EVERYWHERE AS WE ARE NOT GERMANS NOT AUSTRALIANS NOT AMERICANS NOT CHINESE INSTEAD WE HUMANS ARE ALL ONENESS AND WE ARE CITIZENS AND GUARDIANS OF OUR SACRED WORLD AND UNLESS WE HUMANS REALISE THAT WE ARE ONE FAMILY WE WILL KEEP GETTING TURNED AGAINST ONE ANOTHER TO OUR COMPLETE ANNIHILATION.

  9. China got tired of taking in our trash.
    Our recycling program has been a hoax for a long time.
    People thought it was being processed here in the USA.

  10. I wouldn't let China invest in absolutely nothing in America sorry they can not be trusted let them keep their 4.4 billion that is an minuscule amount when comparing

  11. We need American manufacturing and plants owned by AMERICAN companies. China is our enemy.

  12. You mean why China stopped accepting our unwanted garbage? And yet we've illegally exported our recycled garbage to them recently because we don't know what to do with it.

  13. Materials need to be designed with disposal as a primary consideration. Regional waste reclamation centers built to sort by the most efficient means. What can't be economically reused could be disposed of by a combination of burning, composting or landfills.

  14. Recycle is a misleading concept in western world. Peoples think they are saving the world by recycling. But the further is that the western recycling company got paid by taking recycle garbage from residents, then sell them to the developing countries. This is not recycling but transferring pollution from one country to others. Countries like China buy those recyclables not for those papers or cloths, but the rare metals in those electronics garbages.

  15. What you did at 2:26 is an example of waste contamination. Those forks, knives and spoons are either commercially compostable or garbage (landfill). They don‘t go to the blue bin.

  16. For starter, USA not stop sending recycled (yet) good. They just stopi sending trash
    And u show us gross trash for the asia but showing already picked good trash for the USA in the video

  17. For me it means that instead of recycling a bunch of stuff I just throw almost everything into the trash. They don’t accept anything anymore.

  18. Its not 'recycled goods' as the title implies. Untill the material gets turned back into sellable products it's just garbage, yes, its potentially recyclable, but its not even clean, sorted, good quality recyclables, that stuff is too valuable to ship out, no the leftover basically useless waste is sent overseas where cheap almost slave labour and lack of decent laws against dumping has made processing the stuff economically viable, but not now, china and many other countries don't want it, we need to deal with our own excrement.

  19. They need to make the recycling symbols on some of these containers bigger and placed in a standardized location to make sorting easier and faster. If something is so tiny the recycling facilities don't want it they should leave such symbols off.

  20. China makes the goods and sells them to US we us them up to garbage and then we pay China to take it back lol

  21. I like how the tile changed from How China Is Creating More Green Jobs….. to Why China Stopped Buying US Recycling…. 🤔 Why the drastic title change, huh??? Sketchy!!

  22. Alex jones talked about 4oceans how there cleaning the oceans but 4oceans never mentions where the trash is coming from? Its coming from china 4oceans is still a great company i bought one of their bracelets but they have to be truthful where its coming from

  23. Great journalism from CNBC. I am continually impressed by the high quality of content. I think The Economist is the only other brand with this much credibility.

  24. Sounds like a job for the federal government and the EPA . Set standards and manufacturing laws . And push that sword back into china

  25. Why tf are we sending our trash elsewhere instead of taking care of our things ourselves! We should not need another country to tell us that it’s important to take care of our personal and environmental health…

  26. Years ago I work at a recycling plant I can assure you it's not what you think I cannot tell you how many materials got thrown away Just because people wouldn't listen and people wouldn't follow proper instructions

  27. TO get rid of garbage:
    1. Preach recycling: it is good for the environment and how one can make money.
    2. Introduce recycling to a poor country and set them up with recycling facilities.
    3. Start sending your garbage to them.
    4. Once they wised up, there is always another poor country.
    "HELLO MALAYSIA! Let me teach you about recycling."
    rinse repeat!

  28. EPA hosts America's first recycling forum in 2018! An example of how useless many branches of the American bureaucracy are. The EPA formed in the 1970's took over 40 years to initiate a collaborative process for reducing domestic pollution.

  29. One way to reduce the contamination is to get apartment complexes to provide each current and new resident with a local "how-to" flyer on recycling provided by the waste/recycling company. People move and take their recycling habits from their previous cities to their new ones. Have the info available in foreign languages via web site.

  30. A lot of money is being made in recycling! That is why I object to supplying their raw materials for free. People should be paid for their recyclable waste!

  31. China is just a boogie man. America should look at investing in itself instead of elsewhere and how it will help it's people not the coporations.

  32. I guess we’re not going to get into the fact that it was a soft power, political play more than anything, right?

  33. China don't like contamination? LOL yeah then why would they contaminate the WORLD with their Wuhan coronavirus and pollute the air with toxic particulate matter from thousands of their fossil fuel power stations and factories? As a citizen living in Seoul, there are days I can't even go out because of all the pollutants coming from China.

  34. There needs to be more focus on the overuse of non-functional product packaging. Styrofoam & any non-recyclable packaging should be completely eliminated.

  35. Instead of letting China coming here and build recycling facilities  and taking credit for 3000 jobs we should create are own recycling facilities.Then create are own plastic goods and trade with anybody but China.
     The people who work for China in our country say they treat them like they are disposables, and they only hire though temp service  that way they can work them 10 to 12 hrs a day plus not responsible
      for insurance  and get away with low pay.  If you didn't catch it, China would prefer to recycle here and contaminate
     our landfills.  Then they can  bring containers from all over the world. "Which many will say" it only makes since this is where they built their recycle centers. Another plus for China is thats more of the U.S. they own.
      Look out America China is about to fill our land fills with the worlds garbage.
      Wouldn't it better if we created a 4 section square trash container made from recycled plastic in the U.S.A.
    1 section for glass 1 for metal 1 for plastic 1 for paper 1 for lazy people who dont want to take a few seconds and rinse the food out. Think of the tax dollars we could collect, by hiring people on government aid.
      The job market would be huge,
     recycling centers, plastic outlets, paper mills, steel mills.
       I would help the environment if we switched back to returnable glass soda bottles  or returnable plastic bottles with a nickel deposit as an incentive to bring them back to the store to save on your next purchase of bottled beverages.
      Make recycling a law, the incentive would be free pickup.
      We really need to put our people to work, manufacturing our own goods.The crime wave would go down, people would be at work  instead of sitting at home getting into trouble, there would be so many jobs ,
    there would be no excuse to be on government aid. With all the new taxpayers we could take better care of our disabled vets and our retired senior citizens . Provide universal rideshare and childcare
     for single moms and even addicts would be able to find something they could do.
     The government agencies might have to toughen up with those who are healthy enough but don't want to work. We don't need socialism ,we have a form of socialism now and its destroying our country. More and more people prefer to live on aid than work I understand why. They get better housing more to spend on food and extras like cable tv
     I understand that , if they work they have to have a car and that takes
     a big part of their pay, car payments / license plates every year. License plates is crazy high, then auto insurance,  gasoline to get to work. Gas to go back and forth to daycare the grocery store. The cost of childcare is to high
    Watching my grand kids working and paying childcare plus groceries,
     heating bill plus electric bill rent prices are outrageous  650 for a place thats not the best. Try living on 12 dollars an hr.
     A couple of my grandbabies make 15 hr and say thats good money. All work , all  say it takes 2, They Probably could qualify for government housing .They isnt safe for working people. get robbed and mugged they know you gotta
     job, break in while you are at work. Ive had friends move in and move back out.
     We really need to close our boarders for a healthy America

  36. I think we have to stop trading with China and keep the recycled goods here and manufacture the goods we need here with recycled material. Our whole supply chain starts in China, and I think that is plain stupid. I get why they do it though, to avoid environmental regulations. What happens when China starts to pay more attention to their own environment and pollution in their cities caused by manufacturing.

  37. Wouldn’t it be cheaper for the household to separate the garbage? That’s what we do where I live, the city gives us a booklet explaining everything.

  38. Americans don't care about the environment or anything, it's all BS, the lies of recycling they tell themselves.

  39. China plays the long game, and will likely win control of the world because of that.

    "Recycling" is largely a feel-good solution used to engineer people into continuing to be gluttonous consumers.

  40. It takes more energy to recycle than to produce new material.

    Recycling is a hoax that ignorant people believe so that they feel better about themselves.

  41. Let’s look 👀 at the big picture. , China 🇨🇳 Is getting paid for recycling, the United States 🇺🇸 is getting paid for recycling, why isn’t. The
    Average American getting paid for Plastics, ?

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