Each day across the United States about 1,500 shipping containers are packed full of recyclables and trucked to seaports, where they are loaded onto cargo ships and dispatched to China. The recyclables in those containers include metals, plastics, rubber, paper, cardboard and textiles, which are used as raw materials by Chinese manufacturers. As a matter of fact, since 2007 recyclables have been one of the largest exported materials to China.
For years the system worked great. Containers were used to deliver a variety of products from Chinese manufactures to consumers in the United States. Empty containers were stuffed with recyclables and returned to China where the materials would be recycled into new boxes, paper, clothing and other items.
Unfortunately, the quality of the recyclables started to decrease and a lot of the plastics, scrap metal and fiber that was entering China contained too much food, trash and other contaminants. The excess residue could not be recycled and Chinese manufacturers were getting stuck with a big expense to sort out and dispose of non-recyclables in Chinese landfills.