When I was in Charlotte in October, I got into a conversation with a manufacturer who told me that China was no longer going to be accepting a lot of our recycling. He told me this was going to be a huge problem for companies and municipalities across the country that have been spending decades trying to get people to recycle, because American recyclers wouldn’t be able to compete on cost, among other reasons. I thought of that conversation when I read Alana Semuels’s piece today:

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately.

But now much of that carefully sorted recycling is ending up in the trash.

For decades, we were sending the bulk of our recycling to China—tons and tons of it, sent over on ships to be made into goods such as shoes and bags and new plastic products. But last year, the country restricted imports of certain recyclables, including mixed paper—magazines, office paper, junk mail—and most plastics. Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. These municipalities have two choices: pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away.

Most are choosing the latter. …

In 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available, America generated 262.4 million tons of waste, up 4.5 percent from 2010 and 60 percent from 1985. That amounts to nearly five pounds per person a day. …

The best way to fix recycling is probably persuading people to buy less stuff…

America’s present economy is fueled by consumption that is fueled in part by historically unknown levels of national debt.