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China doesn’t want your trash anymore—and that could spell big trouble for American cities - Quartz

Stashed in: China!

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“The public doesn’t realize this, but recycling is made possible by technology and markets—they think it’s just a matter of technology,” an industry insider with expertise in China’s waste management told Quartz. “And we don’t have strong enough markets in the US.”

What’s going on is this: the Chinese government just launched Operation Green Fence, forbidding the import of certain types of solid waste, including unwashed plastics and other illegal waste mixed in with the good stuff. This is a problem for the US because China is the primary source of demand for its to-be-recycled plastic exports (pdf):

The drop-off in Chinese demand, and the lack of immediately accessible alternatives, could hit American cities hard, says Quartz’s contact in the industry. “Cities are going to have a huge problem on their hands because they don’t know what to do with this stuff,” she says. “They have made commitments saying it’s recycled—but they didn’t say how or where.”

Not that the US couldn’t open new plants. But sorting trash to be recycled is labor-intensive, and therefore expensive. (The US’s failure to sort it properly is why China is turning US trash away.) And while optical sorters exist, those are expensive too. And either will raise costs for US cities.

I always thought the Dirk Pitt novel Sahara had the most novel idea.  They built a huge incinerator that broke all sorts of things down to their most primary elements through super-heating by diamond coated reflecting mirrors all hyper-focused on the items.

Would trash sorting be a good industry for prisons?

Actually, yes. Anyone can learn to do it and the price is right. 

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