The article in the url below gives an indication of how much the world relies on China to recycle its waste; it also therefore demonstrates the dramatic effects on the global recycling industry of the ban on waste imports to China that went into effect on January 1:
"China's ban covers imports of 24 kinds of solid waste, including unsorted paper and the low-grade polyethylene terephthalate used in plastic bottles, as part of a broad cleanup effort and a campaign against 'yang laji,' or 'foreign garbage.' It also sets new limits on the levels of impurities in other recyclables."
The immediate effect, essentially, has been to backup all the recycling sites in the developed world that are rapidly accumulating large amounts of plastic (and other recyclables) that they do not know what do to with, simply because they cannot find anyone else to take the vast amounts China had previously been willing to import:
"China had been processing at least half of the world's exports of waste paper, metals and used plastic — 7.3 million tons in 2016, according to recent industry data. … Every year, Britain sends China enough recyclables to fill up 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to Greenpeace U.K. The United States exports more than 13.2 million tons of scrap paper and 1.42 million tons of scrap plastics annually to China, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has reported. That is the sixth-largest American export to China."
In response to the lack of an easy solution, the West is beginning to take more seriously the need to reduce plastic consumption:
"Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, pledged on Thursday to eliminate avoidable wastes within 25 years. In a prepared speech, she urged supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles where all the food is loose. The European Union, for its part, plans to propose a tax on plastic bags and packaging, citing the China ban and the health of the oceans among other reasons."
In the short-term, however, the only solution is a little more basic (and distinctly unsustainable):
"Those measures might help ease the situation some day, but for now Britain is faced with growing piles of recyclables and no place to put them. Experts say the immediate response to the crisis may well be to turn to incineration or landfills."
"In Halifax, Nova Scotia, which sent 80 percent of its recycling to China, … Stockpiles of those plastics have so exceeded the city's storage capacity that Halifax had to get special permission to bury about 300 metric tons of the material in a landfill."
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Wondering Where to Put All the Rubbish China Now Rejects
By Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura
January 12, 2018
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final