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China’s National Sword Policy is making the west completely rethink the recycling of packaging. Or at least it should do as waste plastic packaging continues to explode. 

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.wired.com

It has been over a year since China put a wrench in the worldwide recycling machine by essentially closing it doors to foreign recycling waste. 


China was the recycling industries biggest market being able to buy up waste quantities of recyclable waste to process and turn a profit. 


China’s National Sword Policy came into effect January 2018 putting a stop to most imports of plastic packaging and other waste materials. 


Previously they had been processing the world’s recycling for in excess of 25 years. Now it is next to nothing!


The National Sword Policy was implemented in an effort to halt the epidemic of contaminated packaging materials making their way into China and its processing plants. 


Over the years this became a huge environmental problem China creating landfills and ‘no go’ areas where contaminated waste was dumped. 


Last year Chinese imports of waste reduced dramatically by 99% on the previous year. This has created a seismic global shift in where and how recyclable materials are processed. 


The focus of the policy was of course on plastic packaging however there are other areas of concern. Take paper for example. China’s imports of this have reduced by a third. 


Products like glass and laminated foil packaging products are mostly unaffected by the ban. 


The problem now is that these recyclable materials that were once destined for China are now ending up in landfills and energy intensive incinerators. 


Costs associated with transporting and processing recyclable materials were on the rise before the new policy. Now post the China recycling ban we see the recycling of packaging is unprofitable for many companies. 


The figures illustrate this. In the United Kingdom over half a million tones of plastic packaging & household waste was incinerated last year. 


In Australia the recycling industry has gone into meltdown as the country struggles to adapt following the China recycling ban. The country now has a 1.3 million ton stockpile of recycling that would have been on its was to China. 


In the United States local government has been desperately trying to find new markets willing to accept the recyclable waste and process it. Some communities have completely stopped collections which is leading to many just throwing the recyclable waste in the regular trash collection.   


In Philadelphia many are now resorting to the burning of their bulk food packaging with many concerned about the air pollution that results. 


The long term implications of the China’s National Sword Policy do not look good for the rest of the world. Even before only 9% of waste plastic packaging was being recycled. Another 12% was being sent to the incinerator. 


The remainder was sent to landfills or depending on where you live dumped anywhere including our rivers and oceans. 


Without China’s role in the international recycling supply chain the problems associated with our throw away, single use culture will be greatly exacerbated. 


The planet is at breaking point! Over 8 billion tons of plastic packaging waste have been produced over the last 60 years. These are indestructible materials that will not biodegrade. 


The only potential upside to the China ban is if it makes us rethink this export packaging waste question. We should be looking for far better solutions in order to manage the worlds waste problems. Processing facilities in the West need to be greatly expanded along we need comprehensive reform that encourages producers make packaging that is much easier to recycle. 


In other words, we need to wake up!