A ripple effect has already begun since waste officials in China announced to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July that they would no longer be accepting various solid waste and recycling materials at the end of the year. Those ripples can be seen from Hong Kong to mainland China and to the Pacific Northwest.
According to Reuters, massive amounts of paper waste are piling up on Hong Kong’s docks, and a small fleet of cargo ships filled with paper meant for recycling has been waiting in limbo in local waters. China’s system for dealing with the paper began stumbling almost immediately after filing with the WTO that it would no longer be importing 24 types of solid waste.
The news report says, “Each day in Hong Kong, 2,500 tons of fresh paper waste is piling up with no place to go, according to Jacky Lau, director of Hong Kong’s main recycling business association.
“‘We started our business 50 years ago and we have never experienced such a crisis,’ Lau said, saying the industry was losing HK$2.7 million ($346,000) daily.”
Prices for finished paper out of China have doubled. Have you ordered something from Amazon lately? Guess where most of its cardboard boxes come from? China.
The world’s largest shipper of containers, Maersk, says there’s been a marked decline in waste cargo into China.
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) says the ripples are being felt in the Northwest.
“By the end of the year, much of the mixed plastic and paper in our recycling bins will be banned from China. That leaves companies in the Northwest without buyers for much of the material they collect from curbside bins, which could mean our recyclables will end up in a landfill. Peter Spendelow, a natural resource specialist with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said the loss of Chinese buyers is a major disruption in the recycling market. It’s unclear where all the paper and plastic will go instead. ‘We’ve seen markets go up and down before, but this is big,’ he said. ‘When the major buyer cuts out with almost no notice—it’s going to be a struggle for a while. There’s just no way around it.’” – OPB
While I was at WasteCon/ISWA World Congress in September, I had a long conversation with John Bradburn, the global manager of waste reduction at General Motors. Bradburn leads more than 150 GM groups around the world to recycle, reuse, and convert waste to energy from daily operations. He’s also one of the founders of Reuse Opportunity Collaboratory Detroit (rocdetroit.org), a nonprofit organization that brings together companies and programs so they can reuse each others’ waste materials.
His presentation to the conference emphasized the need for new, creative, domestic solutions to reprogram what we traditionally view as waste management and recycling.
We’re running out of time to do just that, as we could very soon be facing a tsunami of China-rejected waste. Right now, more than ever, we need a few game-changing ideas that can be the “stone tossed into a pond” that creates our own ripple effect across the global waste and recycling industry.