Recycling and the China connection

IMG_6113My recycling is staying right in Minnesota.

CORRECTION 6//19/18 – Eureka has not shipped to China since 2013.

After a friend pointed me to a New York Times article saying that recycling is going into landfills, because China has closed the door on U.S. garbage imports, I double-checked. Yes—Minneapolis and St. Paul recycling still stays mostly in Minnesota. Eureka Recycling, our non-profit recycling provider, does not ship our paper, plastic, or anything else to China, and has not done so since 2013.

“About 80% of our materials are sold to markets in MN, 90% in the upper Midwest, 100% in North America,” reports Lynn Hoffman, co-president of Eureka. She adds that they are still impacted by China’s import ban, because flooding of U.S. recycling markets has driven prices down.

According to the NYT article, roughly one-third of the 66 million tons of material recycled in the United States each year is shipped overseas. China was the largest importer of U.S. recyclables, and accepted about half of the entire world’s exports of recyclables. Last year, China announced that it would no longer be “the world’s garbage dump,” and it stopped importing almost all recyclables on January 1, 2018.

“We have been outsourcing impacts of our consumption in our trash,” says Hoffman, and the change could be a good thing for the recycling industry. She hopes for investments in U.S. recycling infrastructure to “create good quality material with high value.” The change, she says, could be a good thing for the industry.

On the other hand, there’s a danger that recycling imports will simply shift to other countries, such as India, where standards and regulations are lower. That would perpetuate the problem of dumping our garbage on other people

“We’re not opposed to shipping overseas on principle,” Hoffman says. The problem is that, “in those markets, it can be harder to track your material and know what’s happening to it. Transparency is a big deal for us, and that leads us to markets that are closer to home.”

She says the global shake-up could be an opportunity to rebuild in a way that’s great for recycling, and great for our communities. Investment in recycling infrastructure doesn’t come cheap, but, she says, “It’s always less expensive than trash,” especially if you consider the hidden costs of landfilling to human health, water, and cleaning up spills.

Want to know more about where your recycling goes? Check these out:

CORRECTION 6//19/18 – Eureka has not shipped to China since 2013. The article originally said Eureka had never shipped to China, but Eureka has informed me that it did ship some materials to China prior to 2013. Lynn Hoffman clarified in an email: 

“We’re not fundamentally opposed to sending material to China or any other export market – as this is a global commodity industry. We have prioritized local markets as much as possible over the years because it results in more environmental benefit (less transportation) and more local economic benefit.”

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