China has declared that it's no longer accepting "foreign garbage"—which has left a lot of countries, including the US, wondering what to do with it. As part of a drive to reduce pollution, the country stopped accepting 24 kinds of waste on Jan. 1, including mixed paper and the kinds of plastic used in bottles and bags, and brought in higher standards for other materials, the New York Times reports. The policy was announced in July last year. Some Chinese companies stopped accepting foreign waste months ago, but authorities in some countries were still unprepared for the change as this year began, meaning recyclable waste is being sent to landfills or stored in warehouses until officials can find a place to send it.
China used to take around half the world's exports of recyclable paper, plastic, and metals. Countries including India, Indonesia, and Thailand are still accepting waste exports, but authorities say they don't have the capacity to replace China and there's a lot of competition among exporters, the CBC reports. Simon Ellin, chief executive of Britain's Recycling Association trade group, tells the Times that dealing with the buildup of paper and plastic is causing "tough times" in the industry—but China's move will hopefully reduce the amount of trash being produced. "What's happened is that the final link in the supply chain has turned around and said: 'No, we're not going to take this poor-quality stuff anymore. Keep it for yourself,'" he says. (Britain may introduce a "latte levy" to reduce waste.)