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Bales of plastic in a recycling center

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Piles of Plastic

You probably know that one way people cut down on waste is by recycling. Maybe you even help sort plastic bottles and other recyclables from the trash at home. But did you ever wonder where all those recyclables go?

For years, many of America’s recyclables were sent to China. There, they were used to make new products. But in January, China put new rules into effect. It’s no longer taking plastic bottles and some other recyclables, like unsorted paper, from the U.S. and other countries. Now U.S. officials are worried that those items are going to start piling up across the nation. Experts are looking for solutions to this problem.

You probably know that people can cut down on waste by recycling. Maybe you even help sort plastic and other recyclables from the trash. But did you ever wonder where recyclables go?

For years, many of America’s recyclables were sent to China. There, they were used to make new products. But in January, China put new rules into effect. It’s no longer taking many kinds of recyclables from the U.S. and other countries. Plastic items and unsorted paper are two examples. Now experts are worried that those things may start piling up across the nation. They are looking for solutions.

The Recycling Process

When you put plastic items in a recycling bin, they get taken to a recycling center. There, they are cleaned, sorted, and packed into big bales, or bundles. Later, the plastic is turned into tiny bits called pellets. Factories melt those bits and mold them into new goods, like toys, car parts, and even playground equipment.

There are recycling centers in the U.S. and other nations, including China. China is the world’s biggest user of recyclables. The U.S. used to ship nearly a million tons of recyclable plastic to that country each year. But China put an end to that. It said that many items sent there weren’t clean or properly sorted.

When you put plastic items in a recycling bin, they get taken to a recycling center. There, they are cleaned and sorted. They are packed into big bales, or bundles. Later, the plastic is turned into tiny bits called pellets. Factories melt those bits. They mold them into new goods, like toys, car parts, and even playground equipment.

There are recycling centers in the U.S. and other nations, including China. China is the world’s biggest user of recyclables. The U.S. used to ship nearly a million tons of recyclable plastic there each year. But China put an end to that. It said that many items sent there weren’t clean or properly sorted.

Plastic Overload

Since January, some U.S. recycling centers have become overloaded. As a result, more plastic is being sent to crowded landfills. That’s a problem because plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose. Many people also worry that some of it could end up in rivers and oceans, where it’s a danger to animals.

Since January, some U.S. recycling centers have become overloaded. As a result, more plastic is being sent to crowded landfills. That’s a problem because plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose. Many people worry that some of this plastic could end up in rivers and oceans, where it’s a danger to animals. 

Sorting It Out

Experts say people can help tackle this problem by being more mindful about recycling.

“We need to make less waste and boost our recycling efforts,” says Adina Renee Adler. She’s a recycling expert.

One solution is for U.S. companies to use more recyclable materials. Some U.S. companies are already thinking of new products they can make with them, like sports equipment. That will put the extra plastic to good use. 

Adler says that families can help too. She encourages people to keep recycling, but also to choose reusable products when they can. For example, some water bottles are made to be refilled over and over. 

“These are small things, but they can make a big difference,” says Adler.

Experts say people can help solve this problem by thinking more about recycling.

“We need to make less waste and boost our recycling efforts,” says Adina Renee Adler. She’s a recycling expert.

One solution is for U.S. companies to use more recyclable materials. Some companies are already thinking of new products they can make with them, like sports equipment. That will put the extra plastic to good use.

Adler says that families can help too. She tells people to keep recycling, but also to choose reusable products when they can. For example, some water bottles are made to be refilled.

“These are small things, but they can make a big difference,” says Adler.

AlenKadr/Shutterstock.com (Plastic Bottles); Tony Stock/Shutterstock.com (Boy)

1. Why did China stop taking some recyclables from the U.S.?

2. Why do you think the author used the subheading “Sorting It Out” for the last section?

3. How does the photograph at the top of page 2 help you understand the recycling process?

1. Why did China stop taking some recyclables from the U.S.?

2. Why do you think the author used the subheading “Sorting It Out” for the last section?

3. How does the photograph at the top of page 2 help you understand the recycling process?

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