New restrictions implemented by the Chinese government will likely impact the state of Washington’s residential and commercial recycling programs. Presently, there are no changes to collection requirements for Sultan residents and businesses, but Republic Services is asking its customers for increased diligence in terms of keeping recyclable items empty, clean and dry.
Some might be surprised to learn that China is the single largest consumer of recycled materials exported from the United States. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), in 2016, the U.S. exported a total of $5.6 million in scrap materials to China, which makes recyclable materials the sixth largest U.S. export to China.
“Shipping recyclable materials to China is cheap because container ships bringing manufactured goods to the U.S. from China do not want to return empty,” wrote Ecology. “This opened the door for recyclable materials to be able to be shipped to China at very little cost.”
Known as “China National Sword 2017,” the new regulations prohibit the importation of post-consumer plastics and unsorted paper, and will dramatically reduce the amount of contamination permitted in imported recyclables. According to Ecology, as of January 1, 2018, scrap materials imported into China must remain under a contamination threshold of 0.3 percent, which far exceeds the industry standard of 1.5 to 5 percent.
Recycling contamination is defined as “any item that does not belong in the recycling process.”
According to Ecology, items that can contaminate recycling include plastic bags, plastic wrap, liquids, food and food waste, soiled packaging, diapers, electronics and batteries.
“Every year, Americans recycle more than 87 million tons. Unfortunately, not everything placed in a recycle bin is ready to be recycled,” wrote Republic Services in a recent news release. “Did you know that a recent study showed two-thirds of Americans will put something in the recycling cart even if they are unsure if it is recyclable? Sometimes, perfectly good items (such as paper) are ruined because other items are wet or soiled.”
Republic Services asks that its customers focus on making sure recyclables are empty, clean and dry. Each recyclable container should be completely empty, and free from food and other residue. Recyclables should be dry, to ensure that things like cardboard and paper remain uncontaminated.
Click here for additional information from Republic Services. Click here for the Frequently Asked Questions document prepared by Ecology. click here for the white papers by the Washington Refuse and Recycling Association.