Why is Recycling Being Rejected By 75% of Importing Markets in 2018 + Beyond?

If you have not heard the big news yet, the destinations that bought recycling collected via curbside programs of the West are now rejecting foreign waste imports. This all started with China.

On January 1st 2018, China, representing 45% of the global buyers market left the marketplace. This means the West was left with only a few remaining buyers. These buyers are referred to as “secondary markets.”

Secondary markets include Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Canada and Hong Kong for plastics recycling.

These players are secondary because for example, the UK sent 80-90% of it’s plastics to China for almost 2 decades. The UK only sent a small percentage to “secondary markets” like 5-10%. That’s why all countries not named China are called secondary markets.

To see how dramatically the markets have shifted please look at the following graph for recycling collected in the United States but sold to foreign countries.

Why has China rejected recycling?

China not taking in 45% of global collected recycling means we have a surplus of recycling with no buyers. This means the value of the goods being sold goes down due to decrease in demand and surplus in supply.

The world cannot and will not find buyers who can absorb this 45%.

Secondary markets do not have the capacity to manage the quantities China used to absorb.

If China isn’t taking the imports and nor are secondary markets, what is happening to the majority of collected recycling in 2018?

In some cases, where the buyer cannot find sellers, the West would have to:

  • Pay an Asian country to take what they collected for removal versus get paid for the goods collected.
  • Stockpile unsold collected recycling exports at recycling collection facilities in Western nations.
  • Send collected recycling to landfills in the country it was collected in.
  • Recycling sent to landfills in Western nations now subject to incineration.
  • If the majority of collected recycling is landfilled or stockpiled, this means the company also collects no revenue for the effort of collecting and sorting the goods. No sale has occurred. This means the government and tax-payers incur the fee that is charged to collect recycling. Similarly, on top of that, when the waste goes to landfill, the government and tax-payers will have to pay a fee per ton to have this waste landfilled. 
  • In some cases where the recycling is sent to landfill, where no sale has been made, this leaves the recycling center operating in the RED or negative revenuer. In this case, the government and tax-payers are paying the overhead operational costs for centers in the red. For example, one company owning 50 recycling plants in the United States has already been $16M in the negative in the first quarter of 2018. 10 of his facilities have shut-down and he expects that by the end of 2018 all 50 of the rest will shut-down. 

The remaining markets have taken in too much waste. Illegal importation and recycling centers have popped up in all remaining markets. For example, in Malaysia just this June they had to shut-down 114 illegal recycling import and sorting centers. 13 legal centers remain. This means, 114 sites contain trash/recycling that was imported but has nowhere to go. Some can be brought to the 13 legal centers, but the rest stands a high-risk of being mismanaged.

The result of all this additional waste in Malaysia has caused them to completely ban imports indefinitely just to deal with the waste they already don’t know what to do with. The same has been happening in all other secondary markets.

Malaysia is not alone. Thailand and Vietnam are also set to ban imports completely into 2021.

Why did China close their doors to foreign waste imports?

There are two reasons why China and secondary markets are shutting their doors.

1. The imported materials are not clean enough.

2. The imports that come in bales often contain perhaps anywhere from 5-50% of the wrong items.

3. The imports that arrive are the right items, but for example, it’s a plastic bottle that still contains a label on the bottle.

If any of the above happens, this means the bale is unprocessable. This means it gets tossed away from goods being successfully put into the chemical process for new bottles.

The next thing that happens is:

  1. The entire bale of recycling gets landfilled.
  2. The bale will be sent to domestic Chinese or SE Asian nations for further sorting.


he West the two main reasons: it’s too dirty or the container that say they are only one type of good actually contain other pieces of waste that mess up the chemical end of the recycling process.

outright refuse to be the garbage can for other nations or expect that it should meet a contamination level that is unreachable given current collection methods. Is there a way to save recycling so that it is 100% clean, sorted and the right thing for importing nations to properly manage?

Yes! There is a way to manage to recycle safely and this method is already being adopted in many countries but is still not what represents the lions share of recycling which is collected via curbside collection programs.

The only reasonable and feasible solution is collecting recycling from consumers via direct deposit kiosks.

The reason this is the only solution is it is the only safe means of nobody has to sort through any kind of waste in the US nor in Asia. Machine scanners prevent the wrong or dirty thing from entering the recycling bin in the first place.

These systems are known to be immensely successful in achieving a pure and clean product ready for export.

Replacing curbside recycling programs with direct deposit means a 500,000-1.2M person operation (in the US) will be wiped out.

Direct deposit means:

  • We do not need recycling to be picked up from millions of households by recycling collectors. Cost-savings for tax-payers and jobs will be lost.
  • We do not need recycling trucks and the gas for those trucks to pick-up recycling from millions of homes. These jobs would possibly be shifted to thousands of retailers who would host direct deposit kiosks. Cost-savings for tax-payers, jobs will be lost, emmissions will be saved.
  • Once the waste is picked up by recycling collections it also does not require man-power to further sort the bad things out of the waste domestically. Cost-saings for tax-payers and domestic sorting jobs at recycling sorting centers will be lost.
  • With no need to further sort any bad or unclean products out of the mix of collected goods via direct deposit, this also means thousands of recycling sorting centers become obsolete. The good is ready to go from direct deposit kiosk to a freight ship to Asia to a recycling facility meeting the .5% contamination rate. Cost-savings to tax-payers, and increase in profit for those who sell the goods to Asia and SE Asia.
  • If the waste is 100% clean and the right item it will also never have to be considered unprocessable once in China or SE Asian country. This means, good and bad recycling will no longer be chucked into Chinese landfills. (Foreign waste imports were largely unprocessable due to contamination resulting in a 10-13% increase in Chinese landfills that lead to ocean pollution.) By ensuring that the waste is 100% clean by using direct deposit, there will also be zero chances of China selling it to an even poorer SE Asian nation who only seperates what has value, but then lets the rest of the goods go into the oceans and rivers. rectly as it is collected ready for palletting to the facilities in Asian nations for processing meeting a .5% contamination rate.