Cole Rosengren is a senior reporter for Waste Dive. Cole has many years of front-line experience with the waste industry having worked in many environments where he observed a myriad of problems that exist in the handling of waste and recycling. With a passion for forward-thinking solutions to planetary problems that the waste industry poses, Cole seeks to write and report on the pertinent issues that are shaping our conversation about waste and sustainability. Mr. Rosengren holds a BFA in writing and publishing from Emerson College as well as an MA in urban reporting (CUNY Graduate School of Journalism).
The waste and recycling journalist dives into a dense discussion of the many issues facing the global waste industry. As Mr. Rosengren states, China’s unfathomable exponential growth into a dominant global industry player has increased their need for raw materials and scrap. Thus for many years, they have been the final stop for recycled materials that they could turn into new products and export out. However, Rosengren states this ‘perfect circle’ of sorts may have reached its endpoint. With the launch of their National Sword policy, China announced that they would no longer take 24 various types of recycled materials. This policy comes on the heels of China’s Green Fence policy just five years previous, which introduced new standards for lower contamination levels for the recycling.
The new policy will certainly be felt around the world, and will especially strike a blow to recycling operators in China, many of which rely heavily on the ongoing import of a wide assortment of raw materials. And while the retooling of China’s recycling intake process will be an opportunity for China to begin cleaning up their own environment, the economic impact will be an adjustment for material exporters as they feel the sting of stringent regulations.
Rosengren discusses some of the issues that are becoming pivotal points in the conversation, post-China’s new rules. Perhaps a silver lining for environmentalists could be that China’s harsher regulations are driving the push toward a decrease in the use of plastics and single-use paper, etc. in general. But flipping the coin, American businesses and governments are taking a hit when it comes to recycling, as China’s policies have driven up the cost of recycling domestically. As these costs go up, some communities are taxing the recycling, while others are ramping up their efforts to inform the community about proper recycling. And other communities are taking more draconian measures to enforce recycling, even to the point of refusal of pickup if materials are not sorted properly.
Rosengren explains how businesses and manufacturers alike are engaged in a fair amount of finger-pointing in regard to who is to blame for the current waste dilemma. And in regard to governance, the EPA largely views these issues as state and local concerns, thus leaving the decisions, and quagmire, in the hands of various officials on the state level. Some states are even turning to private funds to invest further, and more heavily, into recycling infrastructure.
The waste expert details how the next wave of the movement toward a reduced waste planet is the rethinking of how we consume, in that we have developed a culture that has signed off on the ‘buy anything and everything as long as you recycle it” mindset. Perhaps, ultimately, it is time to rephrase the question to, “do I even need that,” to cut down on waste overall. But the wheels of change are slow and it’s up to everyone to contribute to the solutions that will help solve our growing problem with waste. On a positive note, as the public becomes more informed, for the most part, they do want to be a part of the solution.