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Exporting materials you recycle

What does it say about us when the cardboard or old TV you recycle is more traveled than we are.

To me, a trip to Spooner is about as far as I get, yet the materials we recycle locally go around the world.

There is no doubt about it, the economies of China and India need our recycled goods. It is estimated that half of the world's cement and scrap iron now go to these countries.

Last year alone, $6.8 billion worth of paper and cardboard were shipped overseas. Shipping containers that come over with consumer goods are now being returned with plastics, paper products and scrap. In fact, we have become so reliant on foreign recycling capabilities that we ourselves no longer have the capacity to recycle what we produce. Countries are now starting to qualify what they will accept.

China recently introduced a policy known as "Operation Green Fence." This policy prohibits importation of unwashed or contaminated recycling products. This new approach will lead to serious crackdowns on the recycled materials we send them.

The sad fact is that much of what we send overseas -- and what we put on the curb for our weekly recycling pickup -- is probably ending up in a landfill. Estimations are that 12 million tons of green waste shipped abroad every year ends up in landfills somewhere around the world.

The biggest culprit is e-wastes. E-waste is the electronic devices we discard. Such items as computers, screens and printers account for over 400 million units annually, most of which end up abroad. The problem with much of the e-waste is that they were never designed with the end in mind. Manufacturers will have to be proactive in the future to take into account the end of life for their products. Products are going to have to be designed with the concept of "cradle to grave." It is estimated that 80 percent of electronics that are discarded in our country now end up overseas. The fact that computer screens are made with leaded glass, and chemicals are added to the plastics, such as fire retardants, leads these items to be landfilled. That is not to say that certain components aren't saved. But on a weight basis as much as 75 percent of the weight of item is still landfilled once the usable recyclable materials are pulled out.

Nationally, the solid waste we are putting in our landfills is down by seven million tons a year over the past 15 years. The sad fact of the matter is that some countries such as Ghana, which has the world's largest e-waste landfill, have become our dumping grounds.

My call to action this month is for all of us to be sure we recycling good clean quality items. As consumers, we need to look beyond the price tag and see if the product has been designed to lend itself to easy and clean recycling once the life of the product is over.

If you have any questions please call your designated hauler or your county recycling representative for proper instructions on how to prepare your recycling to ensure that it doesn't travel the world just to end up in a landfill some place that we will never see.