Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.
For decades, we were sending the bulk of our recycling to China—tons and tons of it, sent over on ships to be made into goods like shoes and bags and new plastic products. But last year, the country restricted imports of certain recyclables, including mixed paper—magazines, office paper, junk mail—and most plastics. Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. These municipalities have two choices: pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away.
This end of recycling is coming at a time when the United States is creating more waste than ever. In 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available, America generated 262.4 million tons of waste, up 4.5 percent from 2010 and 60 percent from 1985.
Americans are terrible at recycling.
About 25 percent of what ends up in the blue bins is contaminated, according to The National Waste & Recycling Association.
Cleaning up recycling means employing people to slowly go through materials, which is expensive.
For now, it’s still often cheaper for companies to manufacture using new materials than recycled ones. 2016, according to government data.