Where Our Recycling Really Goes

Written by:

November 5, 2019


It’s so easy to recycle – once you have finished with your unwanted plastic, glass or tin, you just toss it into the blue bin and once a week, it magically disappears. Problem solved, you feel good about getting rid of your trash thinking that it will be recreated into another useful object and that you’re saving it from the landfills. Have you ever wondered where your recycling actually goes?

The truth is, most of our recycling gets shipped to Asia for processing and it’s quite dirty and toxic, seriously endangering the lives of people who live in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia where the majority of our recycling floods their doorsteps.

Up until January 2018, the majority of our recycling was shipped to China for processing. It seemed like the perfect solution – China would send shipping containers full of goods to North America (think of how many products in your home are made in China, from clothes to appliances to furniture) and rather than sending back the shipping containers empty – because that wouldn’t be very green of us – North Americans would fill them with unwanted recycling products. However, in January 2018, China instated a new policy called the National Sword, which banned the import of 24 types of waste, including many low grade plastics that we counted on them to take off our hands.

So, now what?

Scrambling to find solutions, many Chinese waste-processing companies began to move into South Asian countries where the environmental laws aren’t as strict. Fast forward nearly two years later, and countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are receiving literal tons of recycling that’s heaped up in rural communities. Some types of plastic can be chemically treated and compressed into pellets that can be used to create new plastics, while others are too low quality and are simply melted down to be gotten rid of. In either scenario, highly toxic fumes are released creating deplorable air quality for anyone living near the factory. Because these factories have been cropping up so quickly wherever there is space available, little consideration is given to the people who have been living in these areas for decades, farming the land and drinking the water, both of which are now seriously contaminated. For a closer look at how this recycling crisis is affecting individual countries, read the full Discarded Report.

What can you do?

Now that you know a bit more about what happens to your own recycling, it’s time to get serious about reducing (and eventually eliminating) single use plastics. Ditching plastic water bottles is a great start, and we can help you with that! By installing a home water filtration system, you know you’re getting quality water without the toxins and at the same time doing your part to protect the environment. If you’re renting your place and unable to invest in a whole-home system, we have options for you too – we offer a subscription service that’s designed to be accessible and affordable for anyone looking to protect their health. Every action counts towards reducing our plastic consumption – how will you make an impact?


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