SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: June 20, 2018

SNIP: A tidal wave of plastic trash will flood the world over the next decade, a new study says, and warnings are already blaring like sirens in the United States.

In the wake of China’s decision to stop importing nearly half of the world’s scrap starting Jan. 1, particularly from the wealthiest nations, waste management operations across the country are struggling to process heavy volumes of paper and plastic that they can no longer unload on the Chinese. States such as Massachusetts and Oregon are lifting restrictions against pouring recyclable material into landfills to grant the operations relief.

Based on the amount of domestic scrap exported to China, the researchers estimate that the United States will have to contend with 37 million metric tons of extra waste, an amount it’s not prepared to handle.

Conservationists who reviewed the study and found it credible said such heavy loads of garbage worldwide would not only continue leaking into oceans but would also likely spill into neighborhoods.

“There’s not really another huge main hub where this material has to go” other than China, said Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor at the University of Georgia and one of the researchers of the new study. “There isn’t another individual country that has the capacity that China had to take the material,” she said.

The United States is the largest individual exporter of scrap to China. The European Union was the largest regional exporter.

“This is coming, and we’re really going to have to contend with it,” said George Leonard, chief scientist at Ocean Conservancy. “It’s probably going to collapse our recycling market. The price of recycled plastic is going to drop further. It’s going to overwhelm the waste infrastructure. I think from an environmental standpoint we have to think about physical leakage from landfills of mismanaged plastic waste into the oceans.

In Massachusetts, Harvey is watching it start to unfold in real time. Usually, “if I had 200 tons (of scrap) on the grounds that would be more than I would be comfortable with,” he said. But in recent months, Harvey said he had 6,000 tons of paper alone. Other operators probably have it worse. “I’m not one of the biggest processors of material, but I’m sizable,” he said.