In 2010, the number one export from the US to China was recyclable trash. How ironic!
Discards from rampant consumerism are now the primary resource the US sends to its number one import nation. The two major issues related to sustainability are reducing the unnecessary purchasing of cheap, poorly made, highly packaged, short life-span products and the reuse or recycling of what we have.
It's easy to be cynical about the situation. We buy China's crap and we send the waste back so they can make more crap for us to buy, on credit, until they completely own us.
Reuse and recycling is not just about sustainability. It's about jobs and the financial well being of our country. Garbage is a renewable resource. We make it everyday. Internally using these resources to reduce imports or exporting them expands our economy, reduces trade deficits, and creates wealth.
Recycling an aluminum can reduces the need to import the raw materials from other countries and reduces energy costs paid to oil producing nations. Exporting copper means that the money flows to the US and not another country like Chile. Recycling plastic products reduces the need to import oil from Saudi Arabia. This is what global competition is all about.
The United States has indicated that its policy to improve the trade deficit with China is not through reduction of imports but the expansion of exports. The export of machinery, products, and food are the focus. What about #1?
There is no effort to support, encourage or expand recycling. Recycling is a local issue with little national coordination.
So what we have, due to the increase in the value of recyclables, is the unemployed guy in an old pick up truck cruising for metal discards before the garbage company gets to it. We have the homeless poking through garbage cans along Main Street instead of easily accessible recycling infrastructure. At Trash to Treasure, we ask people to bring in there stray power cords for the copper to raise funds for our operation.
Not that this is all bad. It's real. And it's the front line of the economic battle. But shouldn't somebody be looking out for #1?