China Doesn’t Want Our Trash Anymore and Now We Have a California Recycling Crisis

by on September 14, 2018 · 0 comments

in Environment, San Diego

It’s a sad fact of our Californian recycling world – China no longer wants our trash.

China used to be California’s — and the world’s — largest overseas market for recyclables, but in January, China began not accepting “contaminated” material it once brought to its shores. For China, now, if the recycled material is one-half of 1% contaminated, it’s too impure for recycling.

CalRecyle – which runs California’s recycling program – stated in a bulletin in August:

“This policy change is already starting to have adverse impacts on California, and is resulting in more material being stockpiled at solid waste facilities and recycling centers or disposed of in landfills.”

An official for Recology, a curbside hauler that does San Francisco Bay Area trash for recycling, stated:

“There’s no market for a lot of stuff in the blue bin. What we can’t recycle we take to a landfill.”

Back in 2017, Recology was getting $100 a ton for newsprint. Now they are averaging about $5 a ton.

Yet, Californians shouldn’t blame China, as the executive director of Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group, stated:

“China’s not the bad guy. To the Chinese credit, they’ve decided they don’t want to have Third World [trash] sorting in their country.”

With a growing middle class, China doesn’t want its kids and families sorting through mixed paper and plastic. They no longer want to do our dirty work.

So, we have a recycling crisis in California. There’s no longer a recycling market for a lot of the paper, cardboard, plastic and other junk that Californians leave curbside.

And the crisis is beyond China – as it’s also about a broken state recycling program. As the LA Times reported:

… the program itself needs recycling. It’s not generating enough money, in many cases, to make recycling pay. Scrap value has dropped — especially for plastic. When oil prices tumbled, it became cheaper to make plastic bottles from all-new material than recycled matter.

Nearly 1,000 recycling centers have closed in the last two years, about 40% of the total, leaving consumers in many communities with no local place to leave their bottles and redeem their nickels.

California’s once-proud recycling program “is teetering on the edge,” says state Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda). It was hit hard in 2016 when the state cut back on fees it paid to recyclers. The old fees served as recycling incentives.

The word in Chinese for “crisis” has 2 meanings, “danger” and “opportunity”.

Which means Californians have an opportunity to figure this out … BUT in the meantime, what do we place in our blue recyclers? What is no longer good recyclables?

Here are some rules of thumb:

  • There’s obvious stuff not to put in them, like dirty diapers, broken crockery, old garden hoses, and especially not old batteries.
  • Do not include pizza boxes blotched with cheese and grease;
  • no plastic wrappers for food,
  • no shredded paper,
  • no unclean jelly jars,
  • no broken glass,
  • no unrinsed bottles
  • no newspapers that have lined bird cages;
  • no paper envelopes with plastic address windows,
  • no mixed material such as paper and plastic, or cardboard and tape.( It doesn’t pay to tear the stuff apart. Off to the landfill.)

State Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) may have one solution. He has a bill that would require all beverage containers sold in California to contain a minimum amount of recycled material, established by CalRecycle. This bill is going after plastic containers, in order to create a larger market for plastic recycling in California. It also would help reduce greenhouse gases, the senator says, because “we wouldn’t be burning more oil to make plastic bottles.”

But we’ve got to figure this recycling-trash thing out. Now’s our chance.

LA Times

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