At Harvard Seminar, McGuire Sees Positive in China’s Recycling Policy

Echo Environmental President Tommy McGuire told an audience at Harvard University that new Chinese restrictions currently hampering U.S. recycling efforts may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Speaking at a Harvard seminar about electronic waste, McGuire was asked about the impact of China’s tough new standards for the content and quality of recyclable materials that have drastically cut its imports. China had been a leading destination for processing those materials, and the action has sent many American companies scrambling to find new markets and resulted in price hikes that threaten the viability of some municipal recycling efforts.

“When there are issues like this, it makes everybody’s wheels start spinning a little,” McGuire said. “So while it looks like it could be a difficult situation, down the road we find new solutions. Our industry is very creative and innovative. So I think this negative could ultimately be a big positive.”

Our industry is very creative and innovative. So I think this negative could ultimately be a big positive.Tommy McGuirePresident

He noted that Echo Environmental is less affected than others in the industry because it is less focused on paper and plastics, which were primary targets of China’s actions. Echo also benefits from stressing local processing wherever possible, and breaking products down to their most basic components to facilitate more effective recycling.

“Our commitment to doing things the right way from the outset is paying off,” McGuire said.

McGuire was part of a panel discussing electronic waste recycling as part of a day-long Information Technology Summit at Harvard. Although the focus was on recycling, panelists agreed on the need for increased emphasis on creating products that can be reused or repurposed, thus reducing the amount of end-of-life material.

McGuire praised Harvard and other institutions for focusing on ecological issues, which encourages manufacturers to stress sustainable design that has less impact on the environment. That’s particularly important as technological advances compel companies to upgrade more often.

“The equipment is cycling so much faster than it ever has,” McGuire said. “People are realizing that there are components, chips and pieces that still have value and can be reused. I think it’s pretty cool that groups and companies and schools are getting more involved and having a larger understanding of these issues.”

The result is not just helping the environment, he said. “It’s creating jobs and helping the economy.”