The End of Recycling? Life After National Sword

The Hinckley Institute Radio Hour — This week on the program, a panel of local experts discussing how China’s National Sword policy has changed the recycling business model, what the future of recycling looks like and how we can all recycle better.

Adopted in 2017, National Sword was China’s response to what they saw as unacceptable quality levels and contamination in imports of recycled materials. Before this policy, China bought up to 45 percent of global solid plastic waste since 1992. The U.S. alone sent nearly half of its recycling exports to China every year. Losing this lucrative foreign market, domestic infrastructure has grown to try and fill the gap between supply and demand for recycled materials, and efforts are being made to clean up the recycling process.

Earlier this year, KCPW’s own Roger McDonough and Tim Pierce looked into the state of local recycling in an episode of In the Hive. They found that less than a quarter of what is tossed into recycling bins ever gets recycled. This is due, in part, to the lack of knowledge of what, where and when you can recycle something. This confusion has given rise to “wish-cycling” or the misinformed hope that what you are putting in the blue bin can and will be recycled.

Today’s panel addresses why wish-cycling is such a problem following China’s National Sword policy and how we can make a cleaner, more efficient recycling system. The panel includes: Beau Peck, Director of Sales & Marketing for the Pro Recycling Group; Jennifer Farrell, Education and Permits Lead for Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division; and Joshua James, University of Utah Recycling Manager.

Moderating the discussion is Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Campus Engagement Manager for the Sustainability Office at the University of Utah.

This forum was recorded on November 20, 2019.