China’s Trash and Recycling Ban is Causing Chaos Around the World

An overview of China’s new ban, the effect it’s having, and what it means moving forward

China trash recycling ban

China, which typically processes half of the world’s exported waste paper, plastic, and metals is done being the “world’s garbage dump”.

As of January 2018, China no longer accepts over 30 types of recyclable materials that are too contaminated by materials improperly recycled. They said it “seriously endangered people’s physical health and the safety of our countries ecological environment.” This shocked the global recycling industry and has many in high-income countries scrambling to figure out what to do with all of their trash.

Alternative solutions are not in place. With China not buying it, municipalities are left with few options. Many that were selling what they collected just last year are now forced to pay steep prices for its removal. Some have been stockpiling it, but quickly run out of space. Others see the only remaining options as incineration or burying it in a landfill. Neither of which are sustainable solutions. The costs are only going up with some saying towns will have to cut other services such as education if this continues.

Although alarming in the short term, I actually see this as very beneficial in the long run. This will force us to re-design waste management and take steps towards a more circular economy rather than a linear one. If the system were set up properly, it’d mimic nature in that nothing would be wasted and everything would maintain value throughout its life cycle…instead of the present linear system where we get stuck with junk that is not only useless but harmful.

This is a huge opportunity! Businesses and governments will be forced to innovate and design a system that makes sense and accounts for the real cost of our waste.


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