Recycling Costs Rise in the United States Over International Limitations

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(Photo Credit: Classroom Camera, Cascade Canyon School, Flickr Creative Commons)

Recycling costs have risen in the United States following limitations on waste imports set by China, the Tribune-Review reported. The recycling industry crunch continues to ripple throughout the country, drastically affecting recycling programs.

International recycling markets had already been in turmoil before the trade dispute between China and the United States intensified over the summer. China started to enforce its National Sword policy banning 24 types of solid waste like certain plastics and unsorted mixed paper products, Tribune-Review’s Patrick Varine noted. The country also began refusing recycled fiber goods that are less than 99.5% free of contaminants.

Jerry Powell, executive editor for industry trade publication Recycling Resources Inc., told Varine that Chinese recycling policy has affected industry sectors.

“The sorting standards are so tight that for many processors, it’s essentially a ban,” Powell said. “Sorting standards are much higher, and so costs are much higher. […] The net effect is that there is an increased effort by Chinese as well as North American processors to wash and ship clean plastic to China, rather than just taking bales of plastic from the curbs of places like Western Pennsylvania.”

Now the bar for what can go overseas is much higher, Susan Robinson from Waste Management told ABC13’s Ted Oberg. “For us to sell material, it has to be extremely high quality,” she said.

When the quality of waste coming in doesn’t change, recycling costs go up for municipal customers, Oberg reported. “In the city of Houston, recycling is still being picked up, but the costs have skyrocketed,” he wrote. “City records for the last six months available show Houston taxpayers have paid nearly $900,000 for recycling. That is more than twice what taxpayers shelled out six months earlier.”

Ron Gonen, CEO of Closed Loop Partners, wrote an op-ed this year saying that investment in municipal recycling programs produces economic benefits.

“Major investment firms are taking note of the demand from municipalities to increase recycling and avoid landfill diversion fees, as well as demand from consumer goods companies to acquire recycled commodities to include in their products and packaging,” he wrote. “As a result, there is a consistent and steady increase in investments into companies that provide advanced recycling programs. For example, Goldman Sachs recently became a major shareholder in Lakeshore Recycling Systems.”

In addition, major beverage and consumer goods companies are publicly communicating aggressive goals for the use of recycled materials in their products and packaging, Gonen pointed out. “It makes sense. At scale, along with the considerable environmental benefits, it should be less expensive for companies to manufacture using recycled material.”

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