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Your curbside recycling habits are about to change – here’s the policy behind it

China is no longer buying the US's recycling, which means that many towns are closing their recycling programs for good

In Mid-November, I checked my mail to find an interesting report from my town. They were ending their single-stream recycling program and moving to a dual-recycling program. The notice came without much warning. Moreover, the new program was incredibly restrictive about what products I could put out to recycle.

No longer would the tax-funded recycling program take things like pizza boxes or plastic takeaway containers. Additionally, they would refuse all glass recycling. Glass pickup was restricted to only 7 locations across the largest county on Long Island.

If you have a car, you can probably find one of these locations on your way to work. However, for those who previously relied on the curbside recycling that their property taxes pay for – they may be finding that their glass jars and plastic containers are just ending up in the garbage.

The restrictions have caused garbage volume to increase for many households. For people who were unprepared, they had to buy a new recycling bin to account for the bi-weekly recycling schedule. Without proper notice of the change, many people chose to stop recycling entirely – feeling as though the county was bringing too much hardship to their good deed.

What is more insidious is that much of the reason behind the change was cloaked behind vague reasoning. Rumors suggested that the county was changing their policies because recycling costs were too high. However, only a brief Google search revealed that these changes were being made across the country, indicating a more national reason afoot.

That reason is the United State’s trade war with China.

Previously, when a person recycled something that was not pure – such as oily pizza boxes or damaged take out containers, the containers needed to be cleaned. This process can be costly, and labor intensive. In the past, China would buy these materials at a cut rate, clean them, and reuse them in their own re-purposing endeavors.

Due to the cost of employing people to clean recyclables, China has been cutting back on their purchase of imperfect recycled products. However, they ultimately ended the program entirely in retaliation to President Donald Trump’s trade war.

Because it is no longer profitable to sell recycled products to China, many local recycling programs, like the one in my town, have cut back or reduced their recycling programs to only what they can profit on. Smaller communities have needed to end their recycling programs altogether.

This is an attack on the spirit of recycling. Were recycling simply about profit, there would be no incentive at all. I pay to recycle, with my time, and my tax dollars that fund the local recycling district.

Altruism need not exist purely for profit. As our oceans are overwhelmed with plastics, and the temperatures rise, the importance of recycling is more important now, than ever. With restricted recycling practices, there will be an increase in trash going to landfills, which release methane gas as garbage decomposes. Landfills account for one-third of the methane produced by humans in the United States, showing the toll that simply throwing things away has on global climate change.

Recycling cardboard boxes (whether or not they stored pizza before) is pivotal in preserving rainforests. Glass can be recycled endlessly, without an effect on purity. The process of recycling glass actually costs less than starting from raw materials, making it an easy tradeoff for many companies.

However, we rarely think of the environmental cost of our actions as a nation, only the monetary ones.

While our nation’s leaders are fighting over how to spend our tax dollars, I’ve come to realize that I rarely have any input on how my tax dollars are spent. My representative does not consider my values – and that I would rather pay for a recycling program that loses money, instead of a country-wide monument to hate on our southern border.

I’m still trying to find what is the best solution to recycle my pizza boxes. However, I think the president should be held responsible for all the wine bottles in the bin – he’s the reason they’re there.

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