The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Can't save world one person at a time


July 17, 2019

Recycling has always been a feel-good issue for the casual environmentalist, but it’s turning out to be even less than that.

It’s becoming less practical and affordable.

Silver City and Taos are just two New Mexico examples of how solid waste authorities are finding it too costly to recycle — and a big part of the problem, it turns out, is China cleaning up its act.

Sierra magazine recently ran a cover story about the condition of our recycling efforts, painting a bleak picture of just how ineffective we’ve been.

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Well, a whole bunch of the waste what ends up out there is actually recyclables that were shipped from the U.S. to China, where far less stringent environmental standards were in place.

Edward Humes wrote the magazine’s cover story, starting with an explanation of how we got to where we are.

Around 1992, he explains, the U.S. started shipping “contaminated” recyclables to China, which used what it could and dumped the rest into the rivers “to feed the crisis of ocean pollution.” But in recent years, China has imposed stricter environmental standards on itself and banned these imports.

The result has been a reckoning. We’ve got to be smarter and better about our recycling or else it won’t be worth the trouble.

Of course, this isn’t just a recycling issue. It’s part of a greater problem our throwaway world is facing — how to handle, and where to put, the garbage that’s created by nearly 8 billion people worldwide.

Meanwhile, Silver City, a progressive town in southwestern New Mexico, has just lost its curbside recycling program. What’s more, the Southwest Solid Waste Authority, which serves the area, is reportedly cutting down its recycling efforts to cardboard and aluminum and tin cans only.

That’s about right these days. Many if not most of New Mexico’s smaller communities no longer recycle newspapers, glass and plastics. Instead, they just go into the landfill, where about two-thirds of America’s garbage ends up already.

In a report last week, Silver City Daily Press reporter Geoffrey Plant dug into the reasons why recycling is on this downward trend. He too found China at the center of the “blame” for a declining recycling market.

Here’s part of what Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown, who doubles as the solid waste authority’s board chair, said in a statement: “When China’s ban on some 24 types of plastic took effect last year, regional recycling distribution centers suddenly had no place to sell their materials, forcing them to shift increased costs to their customers, including local governments.

“Since 2017, China has banned more than 50 types of plastics, paper, scrap metals and other materials, causing a major disruption in the $5 billion recycling industry,” Brown said.

In other words, there’s nowhere to send our contaminated recyclables anymore, so they end up landfilled.

Up in Taos, they’re trying to figure out how to turn around the costs of their recycling center, which is costing three times more money than it’s making in revenues. The Taos News, among others, is sounding the alarm that if something isn’t done, the center may have to close and all those recyclables will be landfilled instead.

A lot has been said about how we must radically change our behaviors if we’re going to save our planet, but it won’t happen one person at a time. It’ll happen through national and international policies and practices that are designed to “reduce, reuse and recycle.”

Then maybe we’ve got a chance at passing down to our children a world we didn’t completely trash along the way.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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