The Truth about “Recyclables”

In their article “Moment of Reckoning“, the Guardian reports what really happens to “recyclables” like plastic, paper, and even electronics. As China has gradually cut off the import of scrap materials from all over the world, that has left waste management officials with a dilemma: what to do with all of those materials?

The answer?

There isn’t much of a domestic market for US recyclables – materials such as steel or high-density plastics can be sold on but much of the rest holds little more value than rubbish – meaning that local authorities are hurling it into landfills or burning it in huge incinerators

Recyclables Burning in a Philadelphia Incinerator

I’ve been telling people about this for years, often times experiencing angry retorts or open hostility by the disillusioned who want to believe that their recycling efforts are helping to “save the planet”.

They aren’t.

Slowly but surely we are getting the truth, and it is inexcusable it has taken this long to come out. The “recycling” fad has been an illusion for a very, very long time. Even when China was still accepting waste recyclables, their handling of these materials could hardly be called “earth friendly”.

The stark reality is that impoverished Chinese workers are paid a pittance to expose themselves to extreme physical and chemical hazards to extract a small volume of valuable metals from these devices. From there the salvaged components are sent for chemical extraction where even more liquid waste and toxic air emissions are generated.

The only thing sending waste electronics to China ever accomplished was to protect our environment by transferring the problem to another part of the world. The end result was the generation of waste streams far more dangerous to human health and the environment than merely placing them in a well designed landfill.

That my friends, is NOT going to “save the planet”.

Even more ironic – federal, local and state governments often mandate “feel good” recycling policies, and force the public to pay exorbitant recycling and disposal fees. Consider that, and now think about what you’re actually getting for your well-intentioned efforts and money.

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