Does the US Still Export Its Recycling?

Does the US Still Export Its Recycling?

The recycling industry has long been regarded as a solution to mitigate environmental degradation. However, behind the scenes, a troubling reality unfolds as the United States, once a leader in recycling, finds itself outsourcing this responsibility to countries like China. Even after China put limits on the US waste it would accept, the US still exports its recycling to other countries like Indonesia or those in South America. This exposé delves into the detrimental consequences of this arrangement, shedding light on why it’s harmful to both nations and the global environment.

Does the US still export its recycling?

Environmental Impact:

Sending recyclables thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean significantly increases the carbon footprint associated with recycling. According to a study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, transporting recyclables from the US to developing nations emits over 2.6 million metric tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to the emissions from nearly 600,000 cars. This transportation emissions contribute to air pollution and climate change, undermining the very purpose of recycling as an environmentally friendly practice.

Moreover, the disposal process in these nations, particularly for low-quality or contaminated materials, contributes to environmental destruction and contamination. Investigations by environmental organizations have revealed that some recycling facilities in the receiving nations resort to environmentally harmful methods such as open burning or dumping. This releases toxic pollutants into the air, soil, and water, posing severe health risks to nearby communities and exacerbating environmental degradation.

Additionally, the lack of stringent environmental regulations in many of these countries allows for widespread pollution from recycling operations. The improper handling of recyclables, including plastic, paper, and electronic waste, leads to contamination of waterways and soil. Studies have shown elevated levels of heavy metals and hazardous chemicals in areas surrounding recycling facilities, highlighting the environmental consequences of the recycling trade industry.

Overall, the reliance on other countries to handle the US’ recycling not only increases the carbon footprint of recycling but also contributes to environmental destruction and contamination, further exacerbating global environmental challenges.

Economic Dependency:

Dependence on other nations for recycling exacerbates the United States’ economic vulnerability. With other countries like Indonesia or Ecuador holding significant leverage over the global recycling market, any disruption in trade relations or policy changes could disrupt the flow of recyclables and destabilize recycling programs across the US. Moreover, outsourcing recycling jobs deprives Americans of employment opportunities in the burgeoning green economy, perpetuating economic inequality and contributing to unemployment rates in the US recycling sector.

Chart plastic waste
credit: statistica
Loss of Sovereignty:

By outsourcing its recycling to other countries, the United States relinquishes control over its waste management policies and practices. This loss of sovereignty not only undermines national autonomy but also impedes efforts to implement comprehensive waste reduction and recycling strategies tailored to domestic needs and priorities.

Resource Depletion:

Exporting recyclables to other nations perpetuates a linear model of resource consumption, where virgin materials are continually extracted to meet demand. Instead of fostering a circular economy where materials are reused and recycled domestically, the US relies on other nations to process its waste, perpetuating resource depletion and environmental degradation. This unsustainable reliance on finite resources undermines long-term sustainability and exacerbates global resource scarcity.

Mental Toll:

Due to the complex trading system, many people are wondering, does the US still export its recycling? The lack of clarity breeds distrust. The lack of confidence in the recycling system, exacerbated by the outsourcing of recycling, fosters apathy about the environment among the general populace. When individuals perceive that their efforts to recycle are being squandered or mismanaged, they may become disillusioned with the efficacy of recycling as a solution to environmental problems. Reports of recyclables ending up in landfills or being improperly disposed of in foreign countries erode trust in the recycling process and diminish motivation to participate in recycling programs. This disillusionment can lead to apathy about environmental issues more broadly, as people may feel powerless to enact meaningful change through recycling or other eco-friendly behaviors. As a result, the outsourcing of recycling not only undermines environmental sustainability but also undermines public engagement and activism in environmental conservation efforts.


The recycling trade industry exemplifies the pitfalls of short-sighted environmental policies and economic dependencies. By outsourcing its recycling, the United States sacrifices environmental stewardship, economic sovereignty, and long-term sustainability. To address these challenges, concerted efforts are needed to invest in domestic recycling infrastructure, promote sustainable consumption patterns, and foster collaboration on global waste management solutions. Only then can we break free from the costly cycle of outsourcing responsibility and pave the way towards a more resilient and sustainable future.

Does the US still export its recycling? Yes. Should it? You be the judge.


Comments: 2

  1. Hunter Drenmott says:

    Wow seems about right. Thank you for your informative blog!

  2. Suzanne Somney says:

    Wow great information! You are such an amazing journalist and accomplished super model.

Leave a Reply