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China Is Done Cleaning Up Our Mess

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

By Gary Schwartz

I was listening to NPR one day this summer while driving to pick up my son from camp. The podcast reported on how China alerted the World Trade Organization that it was no longer accepting most of the world’s waste for recycling. The story went into great detail about how in Seattle the problem had already reached dangerous levels. Locals take recycling seriously and have made Seattle one of America’s cleanest cities. Unfortunately, the collected materials have to go somewhere, so football-field sized piles of plastic waste are just sitting there in parking lots, and the only option is to bury it in landfills! Why? Chinese recyclers say the world’s waste is just too dirty and it costs too much to clean and recycle.

Bloomberg reported that no one country has the capacity to replace China, but several major players in the recycling business, notably Japan and India, are doing their best to ramp up capacity to process the waste now passed on by China. They are rushing to invest money in modern recycling plants that produce much less pollution and are more efficient to run. At this point, there is no short-term solution to the world recycling situation, so more and more plastic and other recyclable waste are being buried in landfills.  

No domestic solution has been found at this time. Seattle was only the first city; soon this problem will be nationwide. Most of the American environmental policies depended on the Chinese buying our plastic waste and other materials we deem as garbage.  Chicago Tribune reported on the American recycling industry and explained that plastic bags are to blame. The cheap thin plastic bags that you get at the store are a menace to recycling. These bags must be hand sorted because no machine sensor system can detect and separate them at this time. American waste is full of plastic bags. We are not the only country with this problem: third world nations use the cheap plastic for a variety of reasons, but in the end it fouls up any recycling process.

Even News 12 Long Island is promoting a campaign to separate the plastic bags and return them to grocery stores doing collections. It is essential to learn the correct way to recycle and find out where that recycling goes. Consumers have to learn to opt for sustainable cloth shopping bags and give up the disposable bags. The national problem with waste will hit deadly proportions within a year if we do not come up with a solution. Either way, China is done cleaning up our mess.

Based on Long Island, Gary Schwartz is the owner and creator of the bestselling cannabis-themed game Roll-a-Bong, as well as owner and chief designer of Quantum RPGs-3D Tabletop Gaming. He has over 25 years of experience in the game design industry. Gary is also a writer, comics artist, and science educator. For more information, visit or follow on Instagram at @roll_abong.


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