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  • The idea behind recycling is simple.

  • By breaking old products down and converting them into

  • something usable again we conserve natural resources.

  • It saves forests, cuts emissions and means less pollution.

  • Sadly, it's not that simple.

  • Recycling is deeply entwined with our economic system and

  • right now, doesn't make much economic sense.

  • It often costs more to recycle than it does to just throw things away,

  • which is bad news for the environment.

  • This is your Bloomberg QuickTake on the global recycling crisis.

  • Recycling took off globally mainly thanks to China.

  • Back in the nineties China experienced a manufacturing boom

  • and began exporting more and more goods.

  • The makers of these goods were hungry for metals and plastics to refashion into new

  • products and used paper to package them up.

  • So countries like the U.S. were able to load

  • the ships recently emptied of Chinese exports with tonnes of their waste.

  • Everybody won; the U.S. found a huge customer willing to pay for rubbish

  • which now wasn't going to landfill

  • and China capitalized on the empty ships returning home,

  • full of material ready for reprocessing.

  • For years the amount of waste China collected

  • grew and grew and the world became reliant.

  • But that all changed in 2017.

  • "China has introduced new restrictions on the import of foreign waste."

  • "The Chinese government now bans the import of 24 types of scrap."

  • It turns out taking the world's rubbish

  • wasn't particularly good for China's environment.

  • "China is tired of importing our trash."

  • The decision to ban imports sent prices of

  • waste materials plummeting

  • and upended global recycling markets,

  • creating a crisis for communities

  • that had relied on sales of rubbish to subsidize the cost of collecting it.

  • In the U.S. the average price of used corrugated cardboard fell 85% in two years

  • to $28 per ton in August 2019.

  • Recycled materials are commodities, just like

  • oil, gold or caviar and their value rises and falls due to market conditions.

  • For example, when prices are low, it's often cheaper to make that

  • water bottle from freshly drilled gas.

  • And careless recycling can add to the cost.

  • Just one pizza box in a pile of cardboard

  • can ruin the whole batch as the oils in it can't be separated from the paper fiber.

  • At the same time, big companies like Mars, PepsiCo and Unilever have vowed to cut use

  • of virgin plastic and pledged to use more recycled and biodegradable goods,

  • a feat that may need the re-invention of some manufacturing practices.

  • So is it worth paying for?

  • Recycling saves serious amounts of energy,

  • which in turn means lower greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Making cans from recycled aluminium uses

  • 95% less energy than mining and using raw materials.

  • Recycling steel saves 60%, as does recycling paper.

  • So it boils down to how quickly we're able to remake the way we make things.

  • As of 2018, we were on track to generate waste

  • at more than double the rate of population growth through 2050,

  • so we can expect plenty more rubbish to pile up.

  • Some communities are running out of room to

  • store all their trash and have stopped collecting plastic, paper and glass.

  • Others are just sending material to landfills or burning it.

  • Such issues have given environmentalists cause to suggest

  • a more radical approach is needed, saying we should rethink our relationship

  • with materials and be using less stuff in the first place.

The idea behind recycling is simple.

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B1 US recycling china rubbish waste recycled paper

How China Made - and Broke - Recycling

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    洪子雯 posted on 2020/03/19
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