As the US economy continues to slow, our demand for Chinese goods diminishes and China’s demand for the world's recyclables, used to produce some of these goods, has subsequently diminished. Now our trash is stuck on our shores!
Recyclable materials, such as cardboard and plastic, are sent to China to be used in the creation and packaging of Chinese goods. A particularly high demand resource, plastic is used to produce shoe insoles, wrap Chinese made products, and even to make the lining of coats. This was a profitable exchange: we profited by unloading our refuse, China profited from cheap raw materials, and the environment profited from the recycling.
Due to the present economic crisis across the globe, the demand for these Chinese goods has decreased. Huge piles of recyclable refuse from the US and other countries have no place to go. Chinese recyclers are losing money and cannot currently use or sell the recycled materials for a profit.
"You want to know why our prices are dropping?" says Zhang Zhongming, 43, who moved to the village 20 years ago from Henan. "It's because of the U.S. economic crisis. It's affecting the whole world. We're facing 50% losses."
The ripples from the economic crises in the US can have profound effects on parts of the globe many of us don’t even think about, not to mention the complex environmental effects. On the one hand we, as a global community, will be producing less, ultimately resulting in less waste. On the other hand, as we are seeing here, the demand for materials is less, which hurts the current recycling industry, in the short term leaving us with waste we don't know what to do with.
Another ripple to consider is that less production means less demand for energy and fossil fuels, which could mean less GHG emissions. On the other hand less demand for the fossil fuels have caused prices to drop which makes it more affordable to consume and reduces some of the incentives for cleaner, renewable energy technology.
This is a very complex system in which no one can predict exactly where things will end up, but hopefully, some lessons will be learned. Hopefully the concept of doing more with less and the integrated bottom line will prevail. Until the dust settles however, we need to be mindful of the dangers we still can't see.