The US exports its plastic waste. But now other countries are rejecting it

On top of that they arrived at your distributor packed that way, got unwrapped, broken down and sorted for final delivery. Then re-wrapped onto new pallets.

Probably did that at least once before they got to the distributor too.

It makes things like paper straws seem utterly ridiculous.

Whatever your straws are made of, many times the amount of plastic in the straw just went in the trash to get it to you.


I work in a bookstore and while we try to be green and recycle as much as possible, it still generates enormous amounts of waste. Even reusing bubble wrap and cardboard boxes and giving it to anyone who needs it for moving or other projects, we get far more than we can use and the majority of the cardboard ends up in the recycling bin and the majority of the bubble wrap popped and thrown away. I’m not sure how to fix this problem without fundamentally changing the way business is done on every conceivable level.


Canada had some problems a year or two back on this issue with the Philippines raging at us. From the coverage at the time there seemed be an issue that over time the quality and pre-sorting of the recyclables had gone down in quality. It had gone from profitable mixtures of recycling to unprofitable mixtures that were close to garbage.

One of the problems was the increased content of plastic films like those mentioned above - also the inclusion of some actual garbage. It sounded like both the shipper and received had about Trump levels of business ethics as well.

I gather the plastic films clog the sorting machines and if they are not in a completely different sorting stream it messes up things quite a bit.


I mean, honestly, why would anyone expect it to be? Take for instance paper…you can go to the trouble of collecting sheets people throw away and sorting out what can’t be used, or you could get a thousand times the material by clear-cutting a virgin forest somewhere. Plundering is always cheap. And sure, it might be causing permanent damage to the world we live in, but those externalities don’t have to show up in your costs.

At some point we have to figure out what the right thing to do is, and either adjust costs to reflect it or do it anyway, because minimizing costs is destroying the future.


Increased regulation driving systemic change.

No amount of consumers choosing the “greener” option at the end of the chain, or small businesses using alternatives on their end is going to change that before you hit that leg of it it’s dumpsters of single use plastic.

There are alternatives for most of this stuff and cardboard/paper is recyclable and compostable. But most of it is more expensive than the plastic standard. Since it’s mostly invisible there’s no pressure for companies to stop shipping or packaging their “greener” end products this way. There’s little way for customers to know one way or the other, and practically no one doing anything different. So you can’t shift that consumer pressure based on shipping practices

Clear cutting is usually done to clear land for agriculture. Occasionally for lumber.

Most paper comes from managed forest land where fast growing trees are deliberately planted for paper production. The rest is largely post consumer or from non-tree fiber crops, agricultural waste, and scraps from the lumber industry.

Paper is pretty sustainable overall, if done right. Cause it’s a renewable resource, and fundamentally biodegradable.

Which isn’t to say there’s no issue or we mostly do it in a sustainable way. There’s big problems with how those forests are managed, and water use and contamination issues along with emissions issues relating to how it’s all powered. A fair bit of the paper we use is coated, often with plastic, for waterproofing.

But we source it that way because it’s both cheaper and more reliable than running off to different undeveloped, out of the way places. Clear cutting them. Then looking for a new place to do it again.


This is primarily an issue of local politics and the economic planning trade-offs they make at city hall. Well-meaning city dwellers want to recycle, and their city councils know how much it costs to send stuff to the dump, but they can send it to asia for a bit less. For me, I pay a dollar fee per bag plus monthly flat rate, but curbside recycling is free, which makes it cheaper for me to put recycleables there instead of the trash. From what I’ve read, as shipping to asia has become less feasible, the city councils are not ready to abandon the program because they have sunk costs and investments and are hoping for the economics to change back. In many places, the landfill is owned by the municipalities, and so they are thinking about whether they can extend its life a few years if they remove recyclables from the trash stream. So the bargain they strike is they support a recycling program they know isn’t helping the environment, because it still is (or they hope it will return to being) less expensive than landfill, and they would probably get protested and voted against if they stopped the recycling programs that were fought for so hard in the last two decades. Meanwhile, shipping to asia is terrible carbon-wise–they pick out the best pieces using cheap labor and then incinerate or bury the rest. We might as well cut out the middle man and incinerate or bury it nearby. Assuming we don’t change consumption patterns, the best place environmentally for this stuff is buried in a landfill close by, where it is essentially an indirect form of carbon sequestration.

If Asia really stopped taking it, we will be forced to reckon with it–maybe by innovating more cost-effective robotic trash sorting and recycling systems located near our landfills, or maybe by just burying it and raising trash fees a little bit. Probably we will just burn it for energy, and that isn’t too bad if it just displaces coal.

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Nobody will take it away but it sounds like you could sneak it into grocery bag recycling at your supermarket.

Personally I don’t even bother recycling plastic bags because they aren’t very recyclable anyway; you probably get much more benefit by recycling a glass bottle than the hundreds of plastic bags that weigh the same. And it would take me years to accumulate that much plastic wrap using reusable bags to shop.

Whatever you do don’t put plastic wraps and bags in with curbside recycle, as you surely know.

I’ve tried reusing yogurt containers as seed-starting modules as a way to stop material going to the landfill. However I’ve been able to get maybe two uses out of them before they deteriorated too badly. My wife helpfully pointed out that I was merely delaying the trip to the landfill, not preventing it. I still try to reuse them though but mainly for plants that I donate to neighbors and family (I grow a lot of plants).


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Canada recently declared plastic to be a toxic substance since the whole recycling thing doesn’t seem to be working out.


And what would the WTO say if a ban was implemented on the importation of packaging that doesn’t have a proven recycling stream? Of course, I gather the country doing so would also have to pass laws restricting packaging domestically.

Having just finished so dinner prep I wonder if there is a place for developing plastic films designed to minimize impact but not be recycled. I.e you use them and throw them away but the calculated impact is better than trying and failing (or even succeeding) to recycle some of the “recyclable” plastic films we currently see.

I know that this would create a monster - see those “compostible” plastic bags. So even if it was possible I would fear the greater impact.

We still have curbside collection here in Australia and according to the official information for 2018:

  • A total of 3.4 million tonnes of plastics were consumed in Australia.
  • A total of 320 000 tonnes of plastics were recycled, which is an increase of 10 per cent from the 2016-17 recovery.
  • In 2017–18, the national plastics recycling rate was 9.4 per cent.
  • Of the 320 000 tonnes of plastics collected for reprocessing, 145 700 tonnes (46 per cent) was reprocessed in Australia and 174 300 tonnes (54 per cent) was exported for reprocessing.

There is still a lot of confusion about which plastics can be recycled and how good for the environment the recycling process is.

We personally try to minimise our plastic use but like everyone else, a lot of it is out of our control and happens elsewhere in the supply chain.

Who knows, maybe these peanut butter jars I’m reusing as planters will become cherished family heirlooms :woozy_face:


Too bad everyone loses their mind whenever plasma gasification is brought up, as it would eliminate the waste & provide fuel to generate electricity. This isn’t your grandpa’s incinerator.


You have to admit that “Operation National Sword” is a pretty badass name for a policy that boils down to “we’ve decided not to accept all your garbage anymore.”


Suppose cities end curb-side recycling and instead the local recycling centres advertise how much they’ll pay for clean recycled materials. Eg, “OK so this month were paying 80 cents a pound for #2-PET so… wash your milk containers, People!” (And similar offers for glass, metal cans, and paper.)

This action will:

  1. force consumers to WASH YOUR GODDAMN RECYCLABLES, ya philistines!
  2. Force consumers to understand that there is a scarce market for recycled plastics

Will this action force consumers make smarter choices about products and their packaging? Probably not. But it’s a start.

(Also force bottlers to take back their plastic and glass bottles like in the good ol’ days)

(Now get off my lawn!)

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My concern has always been that a shipping company being paid to transport a load that has negative value to Asia might find that it is a good business decision to dump the load into the ocean instead. That is the reason that I avoid using plastic as much as possible and never put plastic waste into the recycle bin.

Beats what Cleveland was recently busted for. The city has a mandatory recycling program and regularly tickets people for failures. When the costs shifted for the city on the back end, they switched to straight landfill for the trash, while still ticketing people for improper recycling.

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The ugly American comes in so many forms, most of them unrecyclable.

Never understood dumping it. Convert it to syn gas and burn it. It’s hiding the shame/outrage, but with profit.

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