Operation Green Fence Highlights Issues with U.S. Recycling Plan

For years, cardboard has been a highly profitable export from the U.S. to China. New regulations could change the way America approaches recycling and trash disposal. Photo: morgueFile/bosela

For years, one of America’s biggest exports to China was trash. But now, Operation Green Fence could overhaul our current recycling and trash disposal efforts. The initiative, announced in February 2013, is an effort by Chinese environmental and customs officials to be more stringent about what imported waste will be allowed into the country.

China has been a prime market for recycled raw materials for several years, and the U.S. — as well as Europe, Japan and Hong Kong — has exported scrap materials to China. In fact, it’s a highly profitable export for the U.S., which netted $10.8 billion from metal and paper scrap in 2011. Cardboard boxes and other scrap paper are particularly valuable; China lacks the abundant forest resources enjoyed by the U.S., so the Asian nation buys our cardboard and other scrap paper, then combines it with their lower-grade recycled fibers to improve the quality of their packaging materials.

With Operation Green Fence, China has announced that it will be stricter in terms of what contaminants it allows in shipments. That means any shipment of recyclables that’s found to have even a single contaminant — such as a syringe or a stowaway rodent — could be turned away. During the first three months of the initiative, about 7,600 tons of material from the U.S. was rejected, according to the International Solid Waste Association. Since the campaign began, an estimated 800,000 tons of recyclable waste total has been rejected.

Industry experts fear that this new approach will lead to increased exporting costs, and there’s also plenty of concern as to what the U.S. will do with its waste if it can’t be sent to China. With a lack of recycling centers to take the goods, some of it could end up in landfills. Cities may be forced to take a hard look at what kind of recycling is offered and/or find a way to produce less contaminated waste.

Whether the initiative continues — it was originally announced as a 10-month program that would end in November — it’s clear that America has to rethink its current mind-set toward recycling and create solutions that are no longer dependent on sending trash abroad.


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Operation Green Fence Highlights Issues with U.S. Recycling Plan

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