Developed nations around the world has been sending about half of their recyclables to China since 1992,  and in the wake of 2018, China placed a ban on most recyclable plastics which sent the world into a frenzy of what to do over the waste. All is not lost, this has proven to be a wake-up call from developed nations. Experts and environmentalist hope that now the government will be more inclined in investing in domestic recycling facilities and research into manufacturing plastic more suited for repurposing and degrading.

The reason behind China’s ban was to for them to focus on their economy and environment. After 26 years of importing other nations waste, it began to take a toll on the nation’s  environment. The type of plastic waste China was importing was not suitable to be recycled into other materials, therefore it made it difficult for companies to break profit. The ban is affecting the US as well. Some states have lifted restrictions on how much recyclable material can go to the landfills. Waste has been piling up at some of the recyclable facility as well. Some companies are either refusing to take in certain plastics or sending them to the landfill. The ban has also highlighted the flaws in the current recycling trend.

Single stream recycling is more convenient, but mixed-in paper, plastic, and glass also lowers the quality of the recyclables which makes them less pure and less valuable. Changing the public’s  perception on what can and what cannot be recycled will take time. China reported imported around seven million tons of waste in 2016, and Southeast  Asian countries are trying to pick up the amount of imported waste, but China has left a void too large to cover. Experts are also concern about exporting waste to Asian countries as they are already home to some of the world’s worst polluters and sending them more waste will only exacerbate the issue.  

Governments will need to play a role for investing in recycling and waste management if anything is going to change. If the International Basel Convention, which governs the export of hazardous and other waste, made plastics as a “waste requiring special consideration” then there would be regulations put into place to better manage the issue and gain knowledge  about what could be done. The Chinese ban also brought to the attention for a need of a more sustainable circular economy. The goal would to continue to  use resources like plastic as long as possible. However, with the low price  of oil, it is cheaper to make and use virgin plastics. The solution to the  issue at hand involves all stakeholders, citizens, governments, and industry to work together and create a change.

United Nations Environment