Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center
Jason Dubruyn

North Carolina is failing to make progress in its recycling efforts. That's one finding from a new study released by Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center, a nonprofit.

The report shows that the state and country became too reliant on exporting waste to East Asian markets, which tightened restrictions on what they would accept.

"The reality is plastics are so hard to recycle and so low value that we could only consistently afford to collect and recycle it when China was willing to buy it," said Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center's Campaign Director Jean-Luc Duvall. "Now that we are left to deal with it ourselves, plastic is choking our recycling system as effectively as it chokes ocean life."  

This doesn't mean all recycling is headed toward the landfill. But Duvall said that consumers must become smarter recyclers. In fact, bad recycling is worse than not recycling at all. Never put recycled materials in a plastic bag, and make sure there isn't any food residue on pizza boxes or other food containers.

"It's entirely within our power to fix the system, but what is missing is the necessary sense of urgency," said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Zero Waste Director Alex Truelove, who co-authored the report. "Recycling, composting and waste reduction efforts will need to play an important role in the fight against microplastic pollution, climate change and other environmental challenges."