Recycled Materials are Piling up in the US, and Local Governments are Scrambling

National News

NEXSTAR (WASHINGTON D.C.)– Cities and counties across America are wondering what to do with the mountains of recycling material we leave at the curbside each week.

For years, shiploads carrying tons of paper, plastic and more have been heading for China, where Chinese companies have been doing the actual recycling. But China has decided it will no longer accept the huge amounts of material from the US.

Local governments are scrambling to find new ways to dispose of the stuff, without going broke in the process.

Much of the material American households recycle used to be sent to China for processing. But starting at the end of 2017, China stopped accepting nearly all paper and plastic recycling because it wasn’t clean enough.

Cooper Martin is the Director of Sustainability & Solutions at Center for City Solutions for the National League of Cities.

He says, “We’d been sending shipments that were 30, 40 percent contaminated they set a limit of about 0.5 percent which is just not possible to meet.”

Martin says China was the single largest consumer of recyclable materials generated in the United States. Finding an alternative hasn’t been easy.

He explains, “That’s really a short term step until they figure out how and they can educate their residents.”

Chief Economist and Director of Commodities for the Institute-Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., Joe Pickard adds, “As China has purchased less and less of recycled commodities recyclers have had to find different homes for that material.”

He says China’s policy changes made some recycling programs more expensive, and harder for some communities to afford.

Pickard shares, “That makes it less economically viable to sell them and so it raises the costs for recycling.”

Solving the problem will take time, but Americans can help right now by learning new recycling habits, like doing more to clean and sort their recycle-ables.

Martin says, “…Start to figure out how we can separate these materials domestically before we need to send them to overseas markets.”

Martin says investment in domestic recycling programs will also help.

He explains, “Industry is stepping up they are making an investment in mills this side of the ocean and in a couple of years those are going to come online.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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