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America's contaminated recycling

America's contaminated recycling

In recent years, the model for U.S. recycling has been to send it overseas to China. China gets a raw material worth money; the U.S. gets rid of its rubbish. But since the start of this year, China has been refusing to take contaminated recycling, forcing communities across the U.S., like Lynn, Massachusetts, to quickly take action.

China's new anti-pollution campaign — dubbed the National Sword — refuses some items outright and demands extremely clean recyclables for the rest (0.5 percent contamination). That's why Julia Greene, recycling coordinator for the city of Lynn, is spending her summer looking through recycling bins.

She rifles through Lynn resident Diane Thomas' bin. It's filled with plastic bottles — a good thing, except for one problem: The bottles are filled with liquid. Greene explains why that's an issue. The liquid can leak onto perfectly fine recyclables and ruin them. "I'm going to have to tell my niece," says Thomas, explaining why some of the plastics are still filled.