The US may have Save the Earth campaigns to thank for the embrace of recycling. But more likely, it was made possibly by China’s emergence as a manufacturing powerhouse. The more China made, the more it needed used plastics, eventually sucking up around two-thirds of the US’s plastic scrap each year, worth several billion dollars.
“[Plastics] 3-7 are absolutely going to a landfill—[China’s] not taking that any more… because of Green Fence,” David Kaplan, CEO of Maine Plastics, a post-industrial recycler, tells Quartz. “This will continue until we can do it in the United States economically.”
China controls a large portion of the recycling market, importing about 70% of the world’s 500m tonnes of electronic waste and 12m tonnes of plastic waste each year. Sudden Chinese policy changes therefore have a significant impact on the global recycling trade, which puts pressure on western countries to reconsider their reliance on the cost-effective practice of exporting waste, a habit that’s reinforced by a lack of domestic recycling infrastructure and a lower demand for secondary raw materials.
China’s Green Fence policy just might spur the U.S. government and recyclers into much-needed innovation..