字幕表 動画を再生する 英語字幕をプリント This video is sponsored by Audible! Listen to a free audiobook with the link in the description. Every year, about 60 million people visit mainland China from around the world. Mostly, to Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. These, not coincidentally, are unofficially known as Tier One cities - they have large urban populations, fast-growing economies, and enough Starbucks to make you feel right at home. But this is only one of several, very different Chinas. A trip to a Tier 3 or 4 city, or, especially, a village in the country, paints a whole different picture. For example, just 15 miles outside Beijing and its 9th-tallest building in the world, lies a very different kind of skyscraper: piles and piles of trash. Some, eight or more stories tall. Here, something like 160,000 locals collect, sort, and resell the city's twenty-five thousand tonnes of trash a day. Entire communities revolve around and survive on these landfills. But, look closely, and you might notice something strange… Between the Chinese water bottles, tires and so on, are, say, German newspapers, British grocery bags, and American milk jugs. That's because, for decades, China has been buying the world's trash. Since 1988, it's imported almost half of all plastic waste. The U.S. alone has sent thousands of containers full of plastic every day. Then, in 2017, China announced it didn't want any more. Its standards became so strict that many countries suddenly had no place to put their garbage. It all started piling up, and fast. In Western states like Washington, Oregon, and California, recycling had to be sent to the dump. Ireland, which had been sending 95% of its plastic waste there, experienced a near-crisis. So, why did China want your trash in the first place? And why is it stopping now? It's hard to overstate how much the economies of China and the United States are connected. Unsurprisingly, China is the number one source of imports to the U.S., and it, China's biggest customer. Every week, hundreds of container ships make their way from Shanghai or Hong Kong, across the Pacific, towards the American West Coast. They deliver your car, your sofa, your dinner. But, as you also may know, the U.S. doesn't have as much to send back. Which, means, big, scary, negative numbers, and a lot of talk about soybeans. This would be a major problem - ships would have to make the two-week return trip empty, and thus, double their one-way prices, making everything more expensive. Imagine how inefficient it would be if every airplane or car had to return from its trip without passengers. Oh wait, that's just called Uber. The U.S. needs something to ship back to Asia. Luckily, there is something we're really good at producing a lot of: trash! Americans make up only 4% of the world's population, but we generate 25% of the world's garbage and dominate 90% of your headlines. You're welcome. On average, each of us contributes 4.4 pounds of waste a day, for a total of 16 billion diapers, 2 billion razor blades, and 220 million tires a year. It also doesn't help that we order everything on Amazon. And that tiny pack of gum arrives in a 4-foot box… inside another giant box, of course. In fact, packaging takes up a third of the space of the average landfill. Which, is cool and all when it magically disappears from your curb, but not so much when the city wants to build the dump in your backyard. Anywhere but there. We Americans are great at buying stuff and turning it into trash but not as good at doing something with it afterward. High labor and transportation costs make it quite expensive to drive around the country to sort, clean, and re-process. Meanwhile, China has plenty of cheap labor and lots of demand for raw materials they can manufacture new stuff with. Plus, we've already got a bunch of humungous boats making the journey at low capacity. As the saying goes: one man's trash is another country's cheap source of recyclable materials, which may or may not be environmentally sustainable, but we'll get to that in a minute. Thanks to good old supply and demand, shipping a 20-foot container from Shanghai to Los Angeles might cost a thousand dollars. The other way, four, five hundred. Here the trade deficit works in our favor. The U.S. gets rid of its garbage, and China gets cheap materials. To see how it works, let's look at San Fransisco. Waste is split into three separate bins. Compost, like vegetables, grass, and napkins, accounts for about 9% of all municipal waste. It's checked for contaminants, mixed, and sent 60 miles North to Vacaville, California, where it's sold to farms and wineries as high-nutrient soil. That's ideal. But about half of all waste, is sent to the dump. It gets picked up, sometimes moved to a temporary transfer station, and then hauled to a landfill, where the plastic bag you used for a few seconds between the store and your car sits for 1,000 years. Not that you should feel… bad or anything. The rest is mostly recycling. Now, sorting it can get pretty expensive. Buuuttt, it's hard enough to get people to recycle anything, much less when you make them separate it. So, San Fransisco, like many cities, uses single-stream recycling - everything from paper, to plastic, metal, and glass, goes in a single bin, and then gets sorted at a MRF, a Materials Recovery Facility. Over 40 tons of waste is processed every hour at the 200,000 square foot Pier 96. Tractors scoop piles of recycling onto conveyor belts, where it gets sorted by humans, mechanical dividers, and optical scanners. Apparently it's not uncommon for people to recycle a bowling ball. Finally, the separated materials are sold and shipped around the world. Sometimes, they move through several countries, making it hard to track exactly where it all ends up. For example, Mexico sends much of its plastic to the U.S., and the U.S. exports mainly to China, often through Hong Kong. So it's likely that even more of our trash than we think eventually ends up in China. After being shipped thousands of miles across the Pacific, eaten or used, thrown away, collected, and then making the whole journey back, much of this trash will end up just a few miles away from where it was first manufactured in Southern China. And then, it'll be recycled and go through it all again. This is an extremely profitable business, It's even how Zhang Yin, nicknamed the Queen of Trash, became one of China's richest women. It worked so well, in fact, that nobody was prepared for a world any different. But that started to change in 2013 with Operation Green Fence, in which China announced it would start enforcing quality standards for imported trash. Then, in 2017, the more aggressive sounding, National Sword - a crackdown on illegal smuggling. Finally, the Blue Sky policy in 2018 added even tougher restrictions and a plan to ban all recyclable imports by 2020. For months, companies like Rogue Disposal and Recycling, in Medford, Oregon, had no choice but to dump recycling in landfills. Which, surprise, is not a great way to encourage more recycling. Since then, U.S. exports to Thailand have increased by nearly 7,000%, along with Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan. But, soon, they too started closing their doors - no one can or wants to replace China. And that isn't such a bad thing. It may actually be really good. Until now, rich countries have had no incentive not to generate insane amounts of waste. Actually, it's been quite profitable! This could be a very good long-term wake-up call. Despite complaints from the U.S. government, China has no obligation to import anyone's garbage. Like any export, trash is a product. If demand changes, so must supply. This is yet another sign of China's Great Economic Transition. Trash is a remarkably good indicator of economic health. Here's the amount of trash generated by each country, and here's their GDP. One of the reasons China no longer wants your trash is that now has plenty of its own. It's also part of Beijing's push to lower its pollution and clear its skies. This year, China is expected to pass the U.S. and become the largest consumer market. By 2030, it's expected to generate three times as much waste as the U.S. And as China becomes more and more important on the world stage, all of us will fall into two categories: those who understand it, for whom this is a great opportunity, and those who are left behind. My favorite book for getting a feel for what the country is really like and where it may go in the future is “China in the 21st Century” by Jeffrey Wasserstrom. I read it while researching this video, and I recommend it - it's only 5 hours long and you can listen to it on Audible! Let's be real, we all have busy lives and it's kinda hard to find an hour or two during the day where you can sit down and read. But it's easy to put on an audiobook on the way to work or school, or while doing chores, or writing long rambling YouTube comments. Not that you guys would do that… What I like about this book, in particular, is that it's a nice, general overview of China, It doesn't pretend to know the future, and it doesn't have any kind of agenda, it's a straightforward, objective explanation. Go to Audible.com/Polymatter or text polymatter to 500500 to start listening to this book or whatever you're into for free! Again, that's Audible.com/p-o-l-y-m-a-t-t-e-r or text p-o-l-y-m-a-t-t-e-r to 5-0-0-5-0-0.