Typical plastic and paper waste is pretty dirty, due to misunderstanding of what can be recycled - anywhere from just thinking anything vaguely paper or plastic can be recycled to places where people apparently think recycling bins are just different colored trash bins (or just dont care). Contamination of otherwise recyclable materials by food is also an issue. Its also not worth much since the feedstocks for new paper and plastic is pretty cheap.
Glass is also fairly worthless, since it needs to be sorted by color to realistically be recycled. Mixed glass I believe is generally landfilled or "up-cycled" into some sort of crushed aggregate for various purposes.
It's also the case that any metal a scrapyard will pay you for is economical to recycle. The majority of discarded steel is recycled.
I've since learnt "recycling" meant more on the line of "collect+transport+sort+ship it out of sight". It was a business like any other, when it was profitable everything chugged along just fine.. as soon as money stopped flowing things gets ugly.
I wonder if there's any opportunity in this. or is it basically wait for some other country to pick up the demand.
Unfortunately, those governments got the predictions right, but got the consequences wrong. The cost of uninformed citizens putting plastic grocery bags, gardening hoses, and all sorts of non-recyclable trash into the single stream is extremely costly. Single stream plants shut down several times a day to remove plastic film bags from their machinery, untangle hoses, and remove literal tons of tainted recyclable material because someone threw a full paint can in their recycling bin.
This is further exacerbated by many municipalities providing a recycling bin that is larger than your yard waste and trash bin. A city I lived in previously did this and many of my neighbors would just put their trash bags into the recycling bin because their trash bin was full.
As such, single stream recycling has been on the ropes since before China raised it's standards. Now it's in full on panic mode.
That said, I don't want to put up with a Japanese style rotation of trash days, special trash bags, and 50 page manuals on how to sort your trash and when to put it out either. Unfortunately, we're going to have to move away from single stream if we want to increase recycling efficiency, it seems.
* How are you reducing your waste? Reducing input? Efficient internal usage? Efficient yet minimal output?
* What do you do with the waste you do still have [assuming any]? Re-purpose it, like a trash-to-treasure type deal?
* Do you consider your time dedicated to Zero Waste not "losing time to dealing with trash"?
Trader Joes has always been semi-unique as a grocery store in that a reasonably high percentage of their produce comes as a multipack on a paper/stryofoam tray wrapped in plastic. It always struck me as wasteful as well.
For most products, you have the choice of multiple companies Y that make/sell said product. Some might differentiate themselves on reducing their packaging. In other cases, you might be able to reduce your packaging impact by buying said product used or (god forbid) going without something you want but don't need.
In that order.
I think it's past time we come up with a macro economic measure that doesn't depend on compounding year over year growth on a finite planet.
EDIT: It does seem, reading from this, that the packaging of goods have gone too complex to be simply sorted by hand because the packaging itself can be contaminated by the paint etc.