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There is Hope for the U.S. - Updates on China's Recycling Ban

ella.nielsen44 MA, United States 0 Ratings 6 Discussions 0 Group posts

Posted by: ella.nielsen44 // Student

recycling, China

It’s been more than a year since China started cracking down on recycling imports from the U.S., forcing cities and communities to start taking initiative on their waste and recycling practices. According to the Northeast Recycling Council, “China’s ban on recyclables is one of the most disruptive movements for the recycling industry and it is shifting the global landscape for resource recovery activities”. China banned the import of a majority of plastics and other materials of national recycling businesses, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclables. 

China had been receiving approximately 40 percent of the United States paper, plastics, and other recyclables, but since early 2018,China has not accepted any these materials unless they meet a strict contamination rate of  .5 percent. This decision was an effort to halt soiled and contaminated recycled materials that were causing problems for Chinese processing facilities. Before the ban went in place, the United States was giving China materials that reached about a 25 percent contaminant rate or higher. China was importing 40 million metric tons of recyclable products every year. In 2016, China announced an import ban on 32 scrap materials; 16 of those materials were banned by the end of 2018, another 16 at the end of 2019. 

This decision to no longer accept dirty recycling materials has left the U.S. and other countries scrambling for alternatives, a situation which is also offering an opportunity to develop better solutions for consumption hungry economies. According to Next City, there are three serious issues municipal recycling programs the United States needs to solve:

  • Decreasing contamination
  • Closing the overall gap between all recycling programs
  • Recycling businesses must prepare themsvelves for unstable market conditions (

Sadly, many parts of the United States are really struggling with recycling, and some areas have stopped recycling altogether or dramatically scaled back their recycling programs. Douglas County, Oregon, stopped accepting plastic and glass recycling in the summer of 2018. Minneapollis stopped accepting black plastics. Marysville, Michigan is no longer accepting eight of 11 categories of recycling items on curbside.  Phoenix City, Alabama, curtailed its recycling program, and Deltona, Florida cancelled curbside pickup altogether. Philadelphia is still picking up recyclables but is burning as much as half of the materials. The other half is still being processed for recycling, but can be as much as 15-25% contaminated.  Small materials processors in communities from Hancock, Maine, to Kingsport, Tennessee, are shutting down, unable to support the higher costs of recycling programs.  These issues are mainly due to cutting costs and few or even no alternative options (

As a silver lining, there are other parts of the country that are doing an extremely good job at recycling, making them role models for other states and cities to get ideas as well. Many recycling centers such as Birmingham Alabama, and sveral areas in California are trying to pick up the slack to decrease U.S. contamination levels.  Hopefully, other areas will be able to learn and implement best practices as they emerge.  

Denver, Colorado has been seeing success in their recycling practices. Starting in 2005, the city of Denver switched to a single stream program through a nonprofit called Recycled Partnership which resulted in a 40% of the city’s population opting to recycle. The city now has a contract with Alpine Waste & Recycling and has been able to invest in upgrades in the Denver plant. This program did not have any upheaval when China’s ban enacted, demonstrating how this pilot program truly works.

Another hopeful story is what the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is doing in regards to their recycling programs. They have launched several recycling grant programs to improve overall recycling in municipalities and help communities make recycling more affordable. Specifically, the community action in the Berkshires has made a major impact on recycling, they received state Sustainable Materials Recovery Program grants back in the Summer 2018. Proactiveness is what we need in communities to motivate other parts of the U.S. to recycle and make it accessible (

Colleges and Universities all over the U.S. have also been taking the initiative on their campus to reduce waste and start to become carbon neutral. Warren Wilson College in North Carolina have been making the effort to become green by creating a store full of reusable material, clothes, furniture, and more to reduce their carbon footprint. Also the students have been getting food and lumber from it’s out organic gardens and managed forests. Harvard University in Massachusetts converted their school trucks to run on spare vegetable oil from the dining halls which has achieved up to 73 percent reduction in waste on campus. Also Berea College in Kentucky has been a major leader in having their five-acre residential complex have eco-friendly appliances. They are currently working to achieve a 75 percent reduction on energy and water use and a 50 percent reduction of solid waste. Overall, although the U.S. still has a long way to go to efficiently run their recycling, but this spearheaded new opportunities to create better solutions for a growing population. 

For more information on this important matter, please visit these websites:

To get an in depth review on what and how to recycle, please go here:




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