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India Just Banned Imports of Scrap Plastic. What Does America Do With Recycled Plastic?

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Workers sort recycling material at the Waste Management Material Recovery Facility in Elkridge, Maryland, on June 28th, 2018.

The Indian government announced a ban on plastic waste imports on Wednesday. This follows China‘s import prohibition in 2017, leaving Western countries with dwindling markets interested in their millions of tons of plastic.

Between 1988 and 2016, the United States exported 26.7 million tons of plastic. For over 25 years, the U.S. and many other countries relied on China to take most of that in. When China‘s ban went into effect last year, it left the U.S. to question what to do with its roughly 68 million tons of recycling now generated annually. According to a 2018 study published in Scientific Advances, China took in 45 percent of the world’s scrap plastic between 1988 and 2016, and the ban will have displaced 111 million metric tons of plastic waste globally by 2030.

If you thought throwing that water bottle in the recycling bin immediately put it on a happy journey to become a cozy sweatshirt made of recycled plastic, you may be disappointed to learn that the path is not so simple.

For curbside recycling, a private company typically hauls collected recyclables to a plant to sort out “marketable” goods that companies or governments can sell to domestic or overseas processors, according to the New York Times. At a plastic processor, for instance, plastics are melted and formed into small pellets or spun into fibers, which are bundled and sold to companies to create products like clothing, carpets, and sleeping bags. U.S. authorities have often found it easier and more cost-effective to send marketable recyclables to processors out of the country. In the second quarter of 2018, the U.S. exported the largest amount of its marketable plastic to Malaysia, followed by Thailand, Vietnam, and India. Throughout 2018, India brought in 294 million pounds of scrap plastic from the U.S.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !