The refuse company sent everyone in my area an informative trifold last year about how the recycling center functions. It showed pictures of the machinery that separates the various materials and the belts where human workers pulled out items that couldn’t be recycled.

Part of the purpose of the flyer was to exhort people to recycle; the other part was to remind everyone of the items that cannot be placed into the recycling bins. The flyer explained that the recyclables were not recycled in the U.S., but were baled, sold and shipped to China to be made into second-use products. Our city is given higher prices for these bales if they are not filled with non-recycleable garbage.

Yeah, there were a lot of quips passed around about how our milk jugs turn into garbage items that we buy, but I honestly didn’t think much about it. With so many people in China, it made sense that they need to import as many types of raw materials as possible.

Last night, I stumbled across China Hush’s article on Lu Guang’s photography. The pictures look apocalyptic, but it is now, people live there, and they are dying. I’ve known about the pollution issues, but to actually see them in a passive light as art really snapped my attention.

Selling our recycling to China is just another transfer of responsibility for pollution. I know it is more complex than that, that the coal factories and the decision to pump waste into the rivers and treat humans as disposable is something handled largely on foreign corporate and governmental levels. But for me, recycling just got dirtier.

I know that people on the West Coast get effects from China’s pollution. We truly are a global population, and this type of environmental destruction will not be solved with a backyard garden and a compost pile. And hermitting myself off to a piece of land to homestead organically will not remove me from this issue.

I know that this is a political and economical issue way outside my scope. But China is starting to open up communications about the effects of pollution on their population. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, World Health Organization and Greenpeace China are working with China and the U.S. to help reduce the pollution.

Approximately 1/3 of the pollution from China is from manufacturing goods for the U.S. While the greater powers work on the problem, I’ll take another look at what I buy, what it is wrapped in, and where it comes from. And I will still be gung-ho about recycling, but I need to look for ways that I can re-use items before they are recycled.

Humanity still has a distance to go, but at least the issue is being discussed on a global level, and plans are being submitted to promote change. This was just my wake-up call on how big the issue really is, and how it will affect me, miles away, tending my own little garden.