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China, the Biggest Buyer of America's Trash, Wants No More

There's one economic activity the U.S. does better than anyone. We're world champs in throwing stuff away.

We are pretty good at getting other people to buy it, too, at least when it comes to all those newspapers, boxes and two-liter bottles Americans toss in the recycling.

The U.S. enjoys a giant trade surplus in scrap, including household recycling, says the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. According to the trade group’s chief economist, Joe Pickard : “We’re like the Saudi Arabia of scrap.”

Now there’s a heap of trouble confronting America’s separators of paper and plastic: The biggest buyer of the stuff doesn’t want it anymore.

In July, China filed a notice with the World Trade Organization about its plans to limit the entry of “foreign waste.” Even before that, starting this spring, scrap shippers say, some Chinese customers hadn’t been able to renew their import licenses.

That explains the piles that have been building since summer in Southern California at Allan Co., a shipper of recycled scrap materials.

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