It hasn’t been news to the waste and recycling industries for more than a year. I’m talking about the effects the China Waste Ban has been having on our domestic recycling processes. As we continue to meet the ongoing challenges of the restrictions, an increasing number of people in the general public are learning about the situation simply by observing changes in their home towns.
A recent photo essay and article in The Guardian tells the story of Chester, PA. It’s a town outside of Philadelphia that is increasingly becoming concerned about pollution and air quality. There’s been increased activity at a nearby incinerator.
According to The Guardian:
The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins.
But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government.
It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse.
The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.
About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says.
Apparently, the incinerator also brings in waste and recyclables from New York, Ohio, and other states. Residents in Chester say one of their major concerns is the already questionable health of their children.
The Guardian reports:
“People in Chester feel hopeless—all they want is for their kids to get out, escape. Why should we be expendable? Why should this place have to be burdened by people’s trash and shit?”
Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics.
From the very beginning, waste services has been about preserving the health and safety of the community. Is this a step backward?
I’m attending SWANApalooza 2019 in Boston, MA. As we continue our discussions and pass around ideas and listen for breakthroughs on how to deal with the current realities, in the back of my mind a clock is ticking.