Megan: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall.

You might have heard that China recently stopped taking the world’s recycling, leaving some confusion about where that recycling is going now. 

So we wondered, does our recycling here in Rhode Island still have somewhere to go?

We have Lauren Black from our Possibly team to answer this question.

Lauren: Hi Megan

Megan: So, what did you learn? Is our waste actually getting recycled?

Lauren: Well, in short… 

Marcel: It’s not a good time to be in the recycling business. 

Lauren: That’s Marcel Lussier. He works at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Center. He says China’s decision has had a dramatic impact.   

Marcel: China represented 40 percent of the market before they made the changes.

Lauren: Those changes started in 2017. Basically, the Chinese government decided that our recycling was too dirty- mixed in with the paper and plastic we were sending over was a bunch of trash. So, it stopped taking our recycling. And that’s affected prices.

Megan: By how much?

Lauren: In 2010, Rhode Island’s recycling center could sell a ton of paper for about $144. Now, it has to pay $3 a ton to get paper mills to take it away.

Marcel:  But we’re fortunate and happy that we’re at least selling material. 

Lauren: Other parts of the US can’t even sell their recycling. So, the short answer is: yes, Rhode Island is still recycling. But it’s much more expensive than it used to be. 

Megan: So, will we just continue to pay to send away our recycling? Or can we convince China to start buying it again?

Lauren: It’s not about convincing China. It’s about doing a better job at recycling. Because, if we can keep our recycling “clean” and stop putting stuff in the blue bin that doesn’t belong there, we’re more likely to find buyers for those materials. 

Megan: Thank you Lauren!

If you have a question about the way you recycle, use energy, or make any other choice that affects the planet, tell us about it here.

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