Wednesday, 6 March 2019

China bans imports, what now?


Materials such as plastics, paper, and glass are usually set aside for recycling and shipped to overseas dumping grounds. However, last year China put a ban on the import of the items intended for reuse. So as citizens continue to sort their trash, what happens to the recyclable materials?

Since China has placed the ban last year, most of the materials that would usually go to those dumping grounds have been transported to Chester City, PA, where they use a Covanta incinerator to burn the materials. This new situation presents the risk of an increase of toxic pollution. Concerns for the health of the citizens of Chester City are growing, as experts say that burning plastic will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen what is already an alarming health situation. Nearly 4 out of 10 children in Chester have asthma. The risk for ovarian cancer in Chester is 64% higher than the rest of the state and lung cancer risks are 24% higher. 

The debris is being shipped to Chester City from as far as New York City and North Carolina. The burning of this trash releases nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and particulate matter (tiny fragments of debris that when inhaled can cause an array of problems).

“There are higher than normal rates of heart disease, stroke, and asthma in Chester, which are all endpoints for poor air,” said Marilyn Howarth, a public health expert at the University of Pennsylvania.  She states that as it is difficult to link any single case of cancer, heart disease, or asthma directly to a source, the emissions from Covanta contain known carcinogens so they absolutely increase the risk of cancer. 

Covanta says that pollution controls, such as scrubbers in smokestacks, will prevent the toxins from being emitted. They also argue that burning the materials is a better option than simply letting in pile up in landfills.

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to come out with solutions to the dilemma. It's proving to be difficult as our country generates more than 250 million tons of waste a year, until recently China would take about 40% of that.

Since the ban has been issued from China, they haven't accepted 2 dozen different recycling materials, such as plastic, and mixed papers-unless they meet strict rules around contamination. The imported recycling has to be clean and unmixed-a standard that is too difficult for most cities in the US. 

We can all agree that the entire recycling system in the US will need to be overhauled to avoid environmental damage. 

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