The US's biggest export to China for the last 5 years has been trash!

This might sound strange, but one of the big destinations of the recycling you take out every week don’t all go to a magic recycling plant that turns them into something else. A good chunk of it is actually exported to China.

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The industry is actually in crisis, despite the fact that the market for recyclables to China has doubled since 2006. This is because China has recently passed a ban on the importation of certain types of solid waste, including unwashed plastics.

The big problem seems to be in the trash sorting. Because it’s so labor intensive, the US hasn't developed good processes for sorting through trash. The Chinese are cracking down on dangerous stuff being in the piles of trash. For example, a single syringe can get an entire shipment rejected as medical waste.