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.
. . . The U.S. is the top producer of waste, according to the World Bank, and Americans have been doing a pretty good job recycling some of that. Curbside-recycling volumes have tripled since the late 1980s, surpassing 89 million tons in 2014, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest figures.
What most Americans don’t know is that after workers pick up and sort their recycling, a good deal travels halfway around the world. The U.S. exported $16.5 billion in scrap last year, the scrap institute says, more than any other country. Paper and plastic were about $3.9 billion of that.
Over two-thirds of America’s wastepaper exports and more than 40% of its discarded-plastic exports ended up in China last year, the scrap institute says. Paper and plastic scrap exports to mainland China topped $2.2 billion—that’s more than exports to China of wheat, rice, corn, meat, dairy and vegetables combined, U.S. census data show.
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.
Working at home continues to grow as a preferred access mode to work, according to the recently released American Community Survey data for 2016. The latest data shows that 5.0 percent of the nation's work force worked from home, nearly equaling that of transit's 5.1 percent. In 2000, working at home comprised only 3.3 percent of the workforce, meaning over the past 16 years there has been an impressive 53 percent increase (note). Transit has also done well over that period, having increased approximately 10 percent from 4.6 percent.
. . .The same is true of Los Angeles. Despite spending more than $15 billion (2016$) building and opening an extensive urban rail and busway system, not only has working at home recently passed transit, but ridership on the largest transit system has fallen from before opening the first line.
Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decreased by 89 million metric tons (MMmt), from 5,259 MMmt in 2015 to 5,170 MMmt in 2016. Although real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 1.5% over that period, other factors contributing to energy-related CO2 emissions more than offset the growth in GDP, leading to a 1.7% decline in energy-related CO2. These factors include the following: •A decline in the carbon intensity of the energy supply (CO2/British thermal units [Btu]) of 1.7%
•A 1.4% decline in energy intensity (Btu/GDP)
Combining these two factors, the overall carbon intensity of the economy (CO2/GDP) declined by 3.1%. Emissions have declined in 6 out of the past 10 years, and energy‐related CO2 emissions in 2016 were 823 MMmt (14%) below 2005 levels.
China’s push to promote electric cars comes with a lot of benefits for a country that suffers from terrible air pollution from its reliance on fossil fuels. But there’s always a downside—electric car batteries are toxic if not disposed of properly, and China’s on the verge of having to deal with a slew of batteries that can no longer hold a charge.
In just a few years, China has become the world’s biggest electric vehicle market, with the help of subsidies. It saw 336,00 new electric car registrations (pdf, p.12) in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency. That includes both battery-only and hybrid models. Including other types of vehicles, China says it sold a total of half a million “new energy” vehicles last year. This month, China also said that it would eventually phase out sales of all fossil-fuel cars.
That fast-growing market, however, is also producing batteries at a faster rate too. The average lifespan of a lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) battery, the dominant type in China’s electric vehicles, is around five years, according to Li Changdong, chairman of the Hunan-based Brunp group, China’s top electric car battery recycler in 2016 (link in Chinese). Most batteries installed on electric vehicles during the 2012 to 2014 period will be retired on a large scale (link in Chinese) around 2018, Li told the Beijing-based newspaper Economic Information Daily.
The dispute over methodology explains the importance of this summer’s research on Seattle’s minimum-wage experiment. The city’s wage floor, previously about $9.50 an hour, has been raised to $13 and is on its way to $15. A comprehensive study by academics at the University of Washington estimated that the higher minimum “reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent.” Consequently, earnings for these employees actually dropped “by an average of $125 per month.” What’s especially inconvenient for minimum-wage proponents is that the Seattle study used a “close comparison” method similar to the one they have favored for years. The authors of the study compared workers in Seattle with those in other metropolitan areas in Washington, like Olympia, Tacoma and Spokane. To no one’s surprise, that hasn’t stopped minimum-wage supporters from attacking the Seattle research. In a June letter to city officials, Mr. Reich, the Berkeley professor, wrote that the study “draws only from areas in Washington State that do not at all resemble Seattle.” But this gives away the game: Any researchers doing this kind of study should explicitly choose control areas that show similar trends, as did the University of Washington team. More to the point, if the controls for Seattle can’t be trusted, it undermines the whole idea of “close comparison.” Criticizing the method only when it delivers evidence against minimum wages suggests the motivations here may be ideological rather than empirical.