The Quest Toward Sustainability Despite China’s Recycling Policy Change

With the influx of recent headlines featuring China, considered to be ground zero of coronavirus, it’s easy to forget that the county’s recycling policies are effectively changing the world. Once the world’s top importer of recyclables, China slowed down its efforts to purchase recycled waste in 2018. The result has been massive trash pileups in wealthy, developed nations including Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., as well as questions on the viability of recycling now that China is out of the picture.

China’s recycling ban stemmed primarily from contamination concerns, especially in the realm of plastic recyclables, many varieties of which are considered highly polluting. And on a global level, we can’t deny that pollution is a major issue, negatively impacting our mental and physical health as well as the health of the planet. 

Sustainability has grown into an extremely lucrative market over the last few decades, and more people than ever understand the inherent benefits of recycling. So how has the world adjusted to China’s recycling policy change, and what can we expect in the future? 

The Many Sides of Recycling

The general understanding is that recycling helps conserve natural resources, often significantly. Metal recycling saves between 74% and 95% of the energy needed to produce new materials. Recycling also minimizes deforestation and may reduce overall global greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet recycling also has its downsides, of which Chinese officials are well aware. For instance, recycling can be a dangerous occupation. According to Eastern Kentucky University, safety hazards at recycling centers can include poor indoor air quality, noise pollution, and problems with heavy machinery.

Now, in the shadow of China, other Asian nations are taking on the dangerous burden of recycling. Thailand and Malaysia are now home to burgeoning recycling industries. However, reports indicate that many countries are now overwhelmed by the number of plastic recycling imports they receive. 

Sustainability in Everyday Life

It’s clear that we, as global citizens, need to find a viable solution to the amount of waste we produce whether it’s heading to a landfill or recycling center. While recycling does indeed make a difference when it comes to carbon emissions and energy savings, it should be a last resort. It’s important to note that “recycle” is the final step in the three “Rs” of sustainability: Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Following that methodology, reducing the waste we produce is the most important step towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The second step, reusing items whenever possible, has become a popular global practice. Sustainable art and design have become big business, and repurposing is a trendy aspect of numerous industries, from home decor to fashion and beyond.

Repurposing and reusing items is, of course, a sustainable practice, but it’s also fun. Searching for items to use in repurposed creations can be a sort of modern-day treasure hunt. Whether you find items with tools such as a metal detector or infrared device, or you just rely on your eyes and a bit of good luck, salvaging waste helps promote sustainability. 

Re-Thinking the Global Waste Epidemic

But sustainability isn’t the exclusive domain of artists and creative entrepreneurs looking to repurpose discarded items. No matter your lifestyle or location, you can embody a more sustainable lifestyle. Start by making conscious choices about what you purchase, consume, and discard.

For example, you may want to take a closer look at your beauty and hygiene products. Many self-care items, including bath bombs, contain environmentally harmful ingredients such as glitter, microplastic beads, and cornstarch. These types of ingredients could clog your drains, and they may also harm the local ecosystem and water supply. 

While recycling doesn’t really apply to hygiene products, cultivating mindfulness of the products you purchase can make a big difference on an environmental level. And keep in mind that, while your recyclables are no longer traveling to China, you can still recycle many items locally, from electronics and computers to scrap metals.

Author: Sam Bowman
Image Source: Unsplash