I have been dutifully saving plastic that is not eligible for curbside recycling, waiting for the next Plastic Roundup. The house is starting to disappear behind the piles of plastic, and there is still no Roundup scheduled. What can I do with it, other than fill up my household trash with it every week? That will just move my plastic mountain to the landfill. Are there any plans to send rocketfuls into the sun or something?
— Liz N., via email
Liz, the hard truth of the matter is no one wants your plastic. Seriously.
The plastic mix collected at the semi-annual roundup was previously processed domestically — most often in California — and then exported to China and sometimes Vietnam or India, explained Denise Barnes, Rogue Disposal & Recycling’s spokeswoman.
Domestic markets required more sorting, which is labor-intensive and cost-prohibitive because it’s done by hand, she explained.
However, earlier this year, the Chinese government announced a ban on certain types of scrap plastics in an effort “to maintain national ecological and environmental safety as well as people’s health in general, and improve the import management system of solid waste,” according to a Bureau of International Recycling news release.
“(China) is at a point where they can start collecting and using materials from their own country rather than importing (recycled) materials,” said Barnes. “They will still need to import some things, but not to the degree they have in the past, and now they are demanding much higher quality materials that are cleaner and have already been sorted.”
The plastic mix collected at the roundup, Barnes said, was very versatile, ranging from plastic straws and bottle caps to children’s play structures.
“With no outlets for our hard-to-recycle plastics, we do not see the plastic roundup coming back anytime soon,” lamented Barnes. “Global markets are slow moving, and no one wants the plastics.”
And even though Superman managed to throw nuclear warheads at the sun, this feat has not been accomplished by mere mortals. Even if the scientific hurdles could be overcome, it would cost about $330 quadrillion to throw a year’s worth of trash at the sun, according to a Popular Mechanics article (www.popularmechanics.com/space/a19666/we-cant-just-throw-our-garbage-into-the-sun/).
Liz, there are local retailers who will take your garden plastics and soft film plastics (see www.plasticfilmrecycling.org for a list of participating retailers in your area), but the rest of your plastic piles will have to be thrown out or become permanent features in your home.
Barnes said it's now more important than ever to practice waste prevention. For tips, see www.greeneducationfoundation.org/nationalgreenweeksub/waste-reduction-tips/tips-to-use-less-plastic.html.
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