About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy
GOOD is part of GOOD Worldwide Inc.
publishing family.
© GOOD Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The U.S.'s largest trash hauler has stopped exporting plastic waste to other countries

This is huge.

The U.S.'s largest trash hauler has stopped exporting plastic waste to other countries
Magda Ehlers

When you put your plastic cup into the recycling bin, you probably think it's headed to a nearby facility where it'll be broken down and then turned into another cup which you will eventually put into the recycling bin. But the process of recycling isn't as clean as we thought. Only 9.1% of plastics in the U.S. are recycled, and our recycling infrastructure is overwhelmed by that amount. Some recyclable plastic is sent to our landfills, while other recyclable plastic – one million tons, to be exact – are sent overseas. Yes, we're exporting trash.

In 2019, Waste Management, the U.S.'s largest trash hauler, said it sent almost one-quarter of its plastic recyclables overseas. Now, they've ended the practice, altogether. "In response to concerns about plastic in the environment, Waste Management is not shipping plastics collected on its residential recycling routes and processed in its single stream material recovery facilities to locations outside North America. The company is working to help establish responsible domestic markets for recycling and beneficial use of these materials," Waste Management said in a statement.

The change is a response to a recent outcry against the mess. Our plastics were out of sight, out of mind, until reports came in that wealthier countries were shipping low-grade recyclables to other, poorer countries.

RELATED: America burns more of its used plastic than it recycles and it's turning our planet into a trash fire

The U.S. had been shipping recycling to China, but in 2017, the country stopped buying and processing foreign trash. The plastics still had to go somewhere. And so, Malaysia became the world's largest importer of plastic trash, receiving recyclables from Europe, Japan, and, of course, the U.S. Thailand and Vietnam also began accepting our trash. In 2018, the amount of plastic sent from the U.S. to Malaysia doubled. A report from the Plastic Pollution Coalition stated that the U.S. was exporting 429 shipping containers per day, while most countries receiving the waste weren't equipped to handle the volume.

Plastic might have made its way to Malaysia, but it didn't make its way into the recycling facility. Some of the waste went to illegal recycling facilities. The plastic that couldn't be processed would get burned improperly, which would release toxic fumes into the air. Burning plastic releases chemicals that can cause respiratory ailments and can even be carcinogenic.

In May, Malaysia simply started sending plastic recycling back to the countries that shipped it there in the first place, as they no longer wanted to be the world's landfill.

RELATED: Guinness beer just announced they're getting rid of all their plastic packaging

Waste Management's new policy went into effect in August, but was recently confirmed by Greenpeace. "Companies should not be exporting plastic waste for other countries to clean up our mess," John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA's oceans campaign director, said in a statement. "The U.S. is offloading plastic onto countries with poor waste management in hopes of pushing our pollution crisis out of sight, but this only shifts the burden to others that lack the capacity to deal with it."

According to the World Economic Forum, plastic production is expected to double in the next 20 years. It's going to continue to be a problem unless we cut down our use. In the meantime, hopefully, this policy change will clean things up, and your plastic cup will end up back in your hands as a different cup, instead of ending up in a shipping container.

More on

Restoring Rivers Could Help Cool Cities - GOOD

The New Drug Wars Are Looking At The Wrong Enemy - GOOD

NASA Photos Show the Drought's Alarming Effect on the Mississippi ...

Little Tokyo Design Week Brings Japan to Downtown L.A. - GOOD

The GOOD 100: Bundanoon, Australia - GOOD

The Appeal of Fair Trade Bananas - GOOD

Fox News' Shep Smith Calls Out Trump For Amazon Lie - GOOD

You Might Want To Change Your Locks After Watching This Lock ...

The Total Package - GOOD

Thinking Outside the Shoebox: Puma's "Clever Little Bag" - GOOD

Is This the End of Recycling?

Malaysia to send plastic waste back to UK and other foreign nations ...

America's Biggest Trash Hauler Stops Shipping Plastic To Poor ...

Malaysia to Ship Plastic Trash Back to the US, Other Origin Countries

China Isn't Recycling Tons Of U.S. Plastic Trash Anymore : Goats ...

Shipping plastic waste to poor countries just got harder

America's Biggest Trash Hauler Stops Shipping Plastic To Poor ...

Malaysia to send 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste back to countries of ...

Huge rise in US plastic waste shipments to poor countries following ...

Malaysia to send back plastic waste to foreign nations

Waste Management, Casella announce halt to plastic waste exports ...

Waste Management and Casella confirm plastic export policies ...

China's Import Ban Broke Plastic Recycling. Here's How to Fix It.

Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America's ...

157,000 Shipping Containers of U.S. Plastic Waste Exported to ...

More Stories on Good