Trash & Trade

China puts its foot down, complicating waste problem

Even if you aren’t an environmental nut, you may have noticed in the news a trend of trash heaps cropping up around the world. The waste issue, oft-overlooked in much of society, but combated by recycling advocates at a spiked pace of late, has spread from mere landfills and piles to obscure places and record amounts.

Those obscure places include the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass in the Pacific Ocean approximately 1.6 million km in area (roughly the size of Texas). The GPGP, which consists largely of plastic, weighs approximately 79 thousand tons, and is growing at each recorded estimate.

Record amounts were seen in the 2017 Global E-waste Monitor, a study produced at the end of last year, reported that the mountain of e-waste (electronic waste, which consists of computer hardware, smartphones, wires, and the like, discarded as new products are released) is expected to grow another 17 percent by 2021 to 52.2 million metric tones, making it the fastest growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream, according to the report.

Now, another variable could complicate the problem further: China announced it will stop importing trash.

Importing trash, you say? Most of us didn’t know that was a thing, either…but upon hearing it, it accounts for a lot. So much plastic waste is generated that countries agree to take it from one another, some (like China) with the capability to convert it into profit through recycling, as NPR reported June 28.

The United States, Japan, and Germany, and Hong Kong are some of the largest exporters of trash.

Some 106 million metric tons—about 45 percent—of the world’s plastics set for recycling have been exported to China since reporting to the United Nations Comtrade Database began in 1992. Then China passed the National Sword policy in 2017 banning plastic waste from being imported—for the protection of the environment and people’s health—beginning in January 2018. The NPR report suggests that in the six months since that action, countries previously dependent on China are already seeing accumulation of their waste.

In other news from the Far East, the ongoing trade dispute between China and the United States will ratchet up on Friday. The Trump administration’s tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports are due to go into effect at 0401 GMT on Friday, which is just after midday in Beijing. China’s government has contended it will respond with reciprocal actions—tariffs on American goods—as the tariffs move forward, with an additional warning that the crackdowns will ultimately have a profound effect on global supply chains, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

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