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Are blue bags of recyclables really recycled?

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Waste Pro and Curbside Management both say blue bags of recyclables picked up in the county are being recycling. Waste Pro picks up recycling from county residents, and the company requires the blue bags to differentiate the materials from trash. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:

Question: I read recently that because China is no longer accepting U.S. recyclables, many recyclables end up in the landfill. Are all of our blue bags of recyclables going to the dump?

My answer: Maybe another round of tariffs would help smooth these issues out.

Real answer: Waste Pro collects the blue bags of recycling in Buncombe County, and Division Manager Johnny Lea said they are indeed being recycled.

More: Answer Man: Messy recycling containers? Place for hazardous recycling?

“Fact is, the situation with China has made it very difficult and expensive to process recyclable materials, but we have been able to keep all recyclables out of the landfill,” Lea said. “The inevitable byproduct of China tightening the import regulations and not allowing this commodity into their country would be increased disposal costs that are or will be passed on to the consumer/customer.”

Lea also provided this interesting nugget: “Right now, it costs more to dispose of a ton of recycling than it does to dispose of a ton of trash.”

This allegation of recycling not being recycling pops up periodically, mostly because of China’s restrictions on what it will accept these days. 

More: What you can’t recycle in Asheville

At Curbside Management, the notion of recyclables not being recycled surfaces from time to time. Curbside Management, or Curbie, handles recycling for the city of Asheville and its 30,000 customers, as well as for Fletcher, Woodfin and Weaverville. And it handles Buncombe County’s blue bag program.

Co-owner Nancy Lawson said their facility in Woodfin is indeed still recycling all sorts of materials.

Jose Ramos pushes crushed cans off the floor inside the Curbside Management recycling center in Woodfin. Curbside Management, or Curbie, handles recycling for the city of Asheville and its 30,000 customers, as well as for Fletcher, Woodfin and Weaverville. (Photo: Citizen-Times file photo)

“Let me reassure you, Curbside Management is processing and recycling all the recyclables on our accepted list!” Lawson said. “They are not going to the landfill.”

You can find the accepted list here: www.curbie.com/index.html.

But, I know folks are going to ask for the list of accepted materials, so here it is. Curbie accepts: metal cans (aluminum, steel, tin, empty aerosol cans); only food, beverage, personal care or household plastic containers; glass bottles and jars (clear, brown, green), aluminum pie tins, food trays, milk and juice cartons, juice boxes, mixed paper, newspapers and inserts, catalogs, junk mail, magazines, cereal boxes, egg cartons (paper), envelopes, Manila envelopes, office paper, paper, phone books, glossy paper, Post-It-Notes, brown paper bags, paper towel rolls, shredded paper (place in paper bag with top rolled down), corrugated cardboard.

And, because I’m clairvoyant in garbage/recycling matters, I know you’re going to want the list of what Curbie does not accept. So here it is: Plastic bags, paper towels

aluminum foil, black microwaveable trays, plastic film (bubble wrap, plastic wrap), Styrofoam/packing peanuts, dishes, mirror and window glass, motor oil bottles, metal items that are not cans, such as frying pans or pots.

More: Answer Man: Buncombe landfill lifespan? How is paint ‘recycled’?

“Our accepted material list has not changed,” Lawson said.

She noted that Waste Pro brings all the blue bagged recyclable materials to Curbside Management.

“The blue bags themselves are not recycled (they are landfilled) but the recyclables inside are being processed,” Lawson said.

China’s restrictions are definitely having an impact on the industry, Lawson acknowledged, with the market constrictions causing depressed pricing.

“Long-term depressed markets, combined with strict quality requirements, are taking a toll on recycling programs across the U.S.,” Lawson said. “Over 25% of the world’s recyclables were imported into China, including 50% of the paper and plastics from across the globe.”

China initiated new policies in 2017, “banned some commodities, and implemented a stringent 0.5% contamination limit on others last year causing an oversupply of commodities, which has led to depressed commodity pricing in every country,” Lawson said.

That’s part of the reason it is so important to adhere to the “accepted” list mentioned above.

“‘Wishful recyclers’ can actually cause more harm than good when it comes to recycling — i.e. tossing items in the recycling bin that you hope are recyclable or think should be,” Lawson said. “Our advice to people is, ‘If in doubt, throw it out.’  That would be so much better than putting the wrong items in the recycling bin.”

This is the opinion of John Boyle. To submit a question, contact him at 232-5847 or jboyle@citizen-times.com

Read or Share this story: https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2019/08/27/answer-man-blue-bags-recyclables-really-recycled/2118896001/



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