Times Are Changing for America’s Trash
We toured an old farmhouse last week. It was built just as brother waged war on brother to defend what they thought was right.
They were fighting for a nation that built itself out of nothing.
As we looked around the place, we saw what we’d expect.
Hand-hewn beams. Rock-solid masonry. And not a speck of Chinese drywall tainted with sulphur.
This place was a throwback… a simple time machine that took us back to an era when little was wasted and sweat on the brow wasn’t something to be ashamed of.
Things have changed. These days we live in a throwaway economy.
We build it as cheap as we can… as quick as we can… and hope it makes it through the decade. When it breaks, we’ll toss it aside and buy another one.
It’s a nearsighted mentality that even a grade-schooler would tell us is sure to lead to trouble.
We’re already seeing it.
The Trash Loop
It’s no secret that America imports a lot of junk from China. In fact, some reports show that 91% of the products on Walmart’s shelves are made there.
But what most folks don’t know is a lot of that junk ends up right back where it came from.
The numbers are startling. Last year, Americans sent some 4,000 shipping containers worth of trash back to China… each day. In fact, it’s our top export to the country.
But now, in a move announced long before Trump’s tariff battle, China is saying “no more.”
The country has finally become concerned with its environment. It’s no longer accepting much of the garbage we’ve been shipping its way.
Most of what it’s turned down is recyclable imports.
It’s denying them because nearly one-quarter of everything Americans toss in the recycling bucket actually isn’t recyclable. Much of that trash is sorted out here in the States, but about 5% still went to China’s recyclers.
Beijing says that’s too much.
Late last year it announced it would allow just 0.5% of nonrecyclables from our waste stream.
It’s an impossible threshold for American trash companies, and now trash is piling up around America’s ports.
It’s bad news for our throwaway economy.
The price of trash is going up… and the amount of material headed to landfills is soaring.
Recyclers across the country are contacting their customers, telling them to cut back on what they recycle. If it’s not one of the “Big 4” – cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminum cans or glass – toss it in the trash. Anything else isn’t worth the effort.
You may have noticed newspaper is not on the list. It’s too expensive to reuse. Because a single greasy pizza box can contaminate a 1-ton bale of paper, the stuff is piling up across the country.
In Boston, for example, one company has been forced to stockpile up to 200 tractor-trailer loads of paper every day.
“This is not a little disruption,” says Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute. “This is a big disruption to a bigger industry than most people would think it is because it’s sort of an invisible process. You put your stuff out at the curb, and it goes away – nobody thinks about it as being a multibillion industry in this country.”
Our Manward Letter subscribers know a lot about the situation.
I recently recommended a stock that will emerge a highly profitable leader as this situation goes from calamity to crisis to yet another capitalism success story.
Investing in solutions is about the only good side to all of this. It’s especially true when it comes to the recycling industry… an industry some folks have called “the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.”
It forces us to ponder the notion of Liberty in a fresh light. What good is a country when it can’t build things for itself… and it can’t even take care of its own trash?
The problem, as we see it, will only get worse from here.
Thanks to the convenience and increased “invisibility” of the realm of online shopping, the amount of trash this country produces is rising quickly – 700,000 tons daily.
We reckon it’s time for our country to stop having feel-good conversations about the topic and start having a real conversation.
If we don’t, it won’t just be our trash we’re tossing aside… it’ll be our Liberty.
The folks who built that old house had it right. Make it good. Make it last.