How China’s plastic waste ban forced a global recycling reckoning

The country once imported nearly half of the planet’s plastic recyclables. Now the world is scrambling to adjust.

This story appears in the June 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

After importing nearly half of the planet’s plastic recyclables for three decades, China barred the import of most residential recyclables in 2017. The ban is part of its efforts to clean its environment and improve quality of life. Now other countries in Asia are increasing their plastic waste imports, raising environmental concerns about their ability to handle such large volumes of recyclables. Meanwhile, in developed countries many domestic recycling programs have been halted because of the cost.

This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge.

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