This past week, waste haulers, recyclers, and various business and governmental officials from around Oregon and Washington gathered in an AOR (Association of Oregon Recyclers) Fall Forum to discuss China's new regulations and scrap ban and the impacts this might have on collection programs in our region. The Columbian's Jake Thomas profiled the local challenges in an article in late October. The serious attention that officials are giving the recent changes in the recycling market may have you asking, "Are recycling programs going to disappear?"
No. Like supply and demand for any commodity, recycling markets fluctuate and adjust. Chaz Miller, a long-time veteran of the waste and recycling industry, wrote on waste360.com, "We've been here before." Recycling markets collapsed in the late 80's and early 90's, and we bounced back. China's tightening regulations are not new either. In 2013, they increased regulations on imports of scrap plastics and paper, primarily out of concern for protecting their environment which was considered at risk due to too much trash being found in some recycling loads delivered to their docks.The most recent, more restrictive, regulation of scrap imports is a clear statement that the Chinese national government is serious. Can you blame them for wanting to make their country clean and healthy?
As the recycling market changes, it's important for everyone to stay informed. Starting with this article, the Green Neighbors program will be producing blog posts that focus on the positive efforts we can take to recycle right locally and the steps being taken in the industry to ensure that our recyclables find a good home after we set them out at the curb.
Why are China's regulations causing such turbulence in the recycling market? One-third of all scrap material collected in the U.S. is shipped overseas, with the majority going to China. In Clark County, the single-stream recycling system that mixes everything together at the curb and then sorts it back out at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) creates the highest rates of contamination. Contamination occurs when residents put the wrong materials in their curbside bins, creating processing problems for the sorting facilities. China's new regulations affect only a small portion of all recycled materials, but the reason it's concerning is that the plastic and paper bales they could start rejecting are a large percentage of curbside collections.
The most important thing for residents to do is to stay informed through local county and city administrations and make sure they are Recycling Right. If you aren't sure if something can be recycled then check the Recycling A to Z directory or put it in the trash. You can refer to your cart lid or the current Recycling Refresher for more information.