Call it a cardboard apocalypse, but as China struggles to cope with its own waste, it’s decided not to purchase the multiple tons of old corrugated cardboard (OCC) it’s bought from the U.S. since the 1980s.
The decision, part of a larger law enacted by China in January, is leaving the U.S. with surplus cardboard waste that has yet to be dealt with, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. On an annual basis, the U.S. exports $16.5 billion in scrap and $3.9 billion of that is paper and plastic. The implications could be huge, as more than two-thirds of America’s wastepaper is exported.
“What most Americans don’t know is that after workers pick up and sort their recycling, a good deal travels halfway around the world,” notes Erica E. Phillips in the Wall Street Journal.
The issue is so economically significant that last month the U.S. asked China to reconsider, citing “a fundamental disruption in global supply chains for scrap materials, directing them away from productive reuse and toward disposal.”
Why the changes? China cites health and environmental concerns associated with the huge quantities of waste paper, discarded plastic and unwanted metals other countries have shipped there since the 1990s.
“As China revved up its manufacturing machine to power growth over the years, officials were willing to tolerate some of the downside of scrap, namely the pollution of local soil and rivers by low-end recycling practices,” explains Mike Ives in the New York Times. “But China’s economic might increasingly means that it no longer needs to make such environmental sacrifices.”
To exacerbate the issue, the shipping of products from online retailers is skyrocketing. Last year more than 40 billion packages were shipped in China, says NPR’s Molly Wood. The need for China to deal with its own waste has caused it to ban imports of 24 categories of multiple waste materials.
Chinese businesses are now under increasing pressure by consumers to use less packaging material and/or reusable alternatives, while the government is offering certain tax incentives for greener packaging.
Since the world lacks other waste markets comparable to China’s, the U.S. and other countries are now trying to find alternatives that don’t involve generating toxic waste by burning the trash. “Waste management facilities in several countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Germany, are groaning under the weight of trash no one seems to know what to do with,” writes Dominique Mosbergen in a recent Huffington Post article.
“This regulation will send shockwaves around the world and force many countries to tackle the ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ attitude we’ve developed toward waste,” predicts Greenpeace’s Liu Hua in the story.
Reusable Containers – A Better Packaging Alternative
As disposing of or recycling corrugated cardboard becomes more problematic throughout the world, businesses and organizations are thinking harder about packaging alternatives, such as reusable plastic containers (RPCs). As RPCs can be used over and over again and not generate packaging waste, they are an ideal replacement.
Many governments are advocating strongly for widespread use of reusable materials. Overseas, the European Union has vowed to phase out single-use plastics and make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030, while a U.K. goal is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years, reports the Huffington Post.
In the U.S., several communities have already banned corrugated from landfills and insisted it be recycled instead. The West Coast is expected to be among the hardest hit by China’s restrictions, since more than 60 percent of collected recyclables in that region have been exported to China until now.
Environmentalists across the world hope China’s actions will be a wake-up call for reduced waste production and better use of reusable materials of all kinds.
Ask Tosca how its reusable containers can help you reduce waste.