Do Green Fences Make Good Neighbors?

You’re a good person. You make an effort to keep MSU as green as possible. You don’t litter. You recycle paper, soda cans and batteries. Heck, you even “recycle” text books from year to year.

So what’s the big deal if you don’t rinse your plastic utensils off before dropping them in the recycling bin? It never mattered before, so why is there a big push now?

The answer to that is called Operation Green Fence, which lies somewhere between your departmental kitchen sink and China. And it’s having an enormous impact on how environmentally friendly we can be at MSU.

The Big Green Fence

greenfenceTo understand what’s happening, you first have to know that for years, one of America’s biggest exports to China has been scrap and waste. Yes, that’s right:
Scrap and waste have been at or near the top of the Chinese export list for many years, even surpassing soybeans and aircraft parts at times. It’s a profitable export for the US — totaling $11.3 billion in 2011 alone. (It’s important to remember that scrap and waste aren’t necessarily garbage; they can be used as the raw material for new products. In essence, China and other countries help process these materials into their next best and highest use.)
There are many other markets and purchasers for scrap and waste—including domestic processors— and Michigan State works very hard to “recycle local” whenever possible. But China is by far the largest destination for a lot of scrap, and when the biggest player on the block makes a dramatic policy shift, the effects ripple through all markets worldwide.Continue reading