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Does it refer to criticism or the global recycling trade?

Every year, Western countries export millions of tons of waste to China, particularly plastics and paper, for treatment and recycling. It is transported by freight in empty shipping containers used for exporting Chinese goods. As disposal and landfill prices are high in the West, sending waste overseas, such as to China, is a cheaper option; another reason is to overcome strict environmental and waste regulations. In some cases, Chinese companies set up offices overseas to buy waste, and they have been able to offer higher prices and accept higher quantities of waste than their counterparts in the origin country. However, the global recycling trade is not without criticism. Complaints include the environmental and social costs of shipping waste, no guarantee over environmental and other standards in China, reduced business and materials for recyclers in the country of origin, and claims that the West is dumping its rubbish on China. It also highlights failures in the recycling market in the West. Recently, China’s recycling industry was adversely affected by the global economic crisis, as reduced consumer demand for products led to lower prices of recyclables; consequently, many Chinese recycling units closed.

Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage

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    This is not a very clearly written passage. I assume it means that the global recycling trade receives criticism rather than that it criticises the trade with China. If so, 'it' probably means 'the criticism'. Commented May 21, 2021 at 8:24
  • I would say "it" here is talking about the whole situation in general, rather than anything specific. Sometimes "it" can be used in this way: referring to a situation previously mentioned.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 12:16

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As I can see, it is related to Criticism If you put this word in the place of it, it makes sense

Criticism also highlights failures in the recycling market in the West

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