The Current

Your recycling could become trash: The 'golden age' of recycling is coming to an end

With China banning more recycling imports, Canadian municipalities will see no place for their mounting waste to go but into the landfill.
A recycling yard on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Aug. 23, 2016. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

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As of January 1, 2018, China will no longer import much of the plastic and paper we have been shipping there for decades.

China is the world's biggest importer of recycled materials, unloading the burden from countries like Canada and the U.S.

Adam Minter, a Bloomberg columnist and author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, describes China's change in policy as "a massive deal."

"It's going to be disruptive both within and outside of China," he tells The Current's guest host Catherine Cullen.

Minter says the shift is informed by China's desire to protect importers from bad trades and keep used goods from flooding its markets. Accordingly, China is unlikely to revert or delay the policy, despite international pressure.

So what happens if there's no longer a market for all of our recyclables?

'The individual recycler is probably going to be asked to pay more for their recycling down the line.'- Adam Minter, a Bloomberg columnist 

In what many are calling a "waste crisis," Canadian municipalities are already finding they have no place for their mounting trash to go — but into the landfill.

Matt Keliher, the manager of solid waste for Halifax, is among those dealing with this landslide firsthand. Keliher is seeking special permission from Nova Scotia to dump growing piles of plastic, the size of houses.

"The province has banned basically every material in this facility from going to landfill. The challenge is when there's no market to take it, it's not recyclable anymore and it needs to find a home. And unfortunately landfilling is the only available option at this point."

Matt Keliher says 80 per cent of his city's recyclables purchased by China before their import changes. He fears a lot of plastic collected by the facility will now end up in an out of province landfill. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

In addition to environmental concerns, Minter says municipalities are going to take a significant hit financially, given that they were selling off their recycling material to China.

"Now that the party's over these various programs have to figure out where to send this recycling and how to replace these revenues."

"The individual recycler is probably going to be asked to pay more for their recycling down the line."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by Halifax network producer, Mary-Catherine McIntosh.