For more than 25 years, rich countries shipped their plastic trash to poorer Asian countries, many of them developing nations lacking the capacity to manage such waste.
China alone took in the lion’s share—45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports. Then at the start of this year, it refused to take more, citing local environmental concerns. China’s move threw the recycling industry into turmoil as nations scrambled to find new buyers.
China’s withdrawal as the world’s repository for plastic waste also laid bare the notion that all that disposable plastic you conscientiously put into your taxpayer-financed recycling bin was actually being recycled. It was cheaper to crush unwanted plastic into bales and send it across oceans than to transport it at home by rail or truck. Now, with China’s door closed, much of that recycled plastic is likely ending up at your local landfill. China’s new policy could displace as much as 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030.