For the first time in decades, China is no longer receiving plastics and glass from the U.S. for recycling.
China’s reason for the change is the plastics from the U.S. are not sorted properly. This has resulted in China spending more money in order to sort out plastics before processing.
Plastics are separated into subsets due to different chemicals compounds which all require different forms of processing. The city of Abilene does not have a method of separating these recycling materials into their proper subsets before processing. As a result, the Abilene City Recycling Department is now unable to find a suitable buyer for collected plastics and glass.
“No more plastics anywhere in this area are being accepted for recycling. The only option is to take them to the landfill at this point,” Josh Brokaw, associate professor of biology, said.
Until a method of processing the different materials is developed, the landfill is the only viable short-term solution.
“We produce so many plastics that a large fraction of them just escape out to the environment and blow away,” Brokaw said.
The consequences to the surrounding communities are increased use of landfills leading to quicker fill up in landfills and decreased awareness of the current issue at hand in ACU students and Abilene city residents.
“The best solution that we have available to us is to not use plastics any more than absolutely necessary,” Brokaw said.
Another long-term solution is to use recycled plastic products over non-recycled plastics. This will increase non-recycled plastics value in parts of the world that specialize in taking in plastic waste.
“One way of to encourage [recycling] and become independent of China is to encourage people to buy things that are made from these recycled materials,” Dr. Tom Lee, professor of biology and chair of the department, said.
In addition, the use of aluminum and paper products over plastic products is another viable solution. Aluminum and paper are naturally occurring elements which are easier for the environment to break down.