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Shipping containers are constantly arriving in the U.S. from Asia, “filled with Nike shoes and Apple phones,” he said. But since American goods aren’t getting shipped back to Asia in the same quantities, freight companies ? rather than ship empty containers ? offer low rates to recycling exporters to ship recyclables there.

“It might cost $3,000 for a 24-ton container to be shipped from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, but the return journey could cost as low as $400 or even $200,” Powell said. “It costs more money to move a bale [of recycled trash] across Los Angeles than from the Los Angeles pier to Hong Kong.”


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