China Tightens Recycling Import Rules

We have all seen the pictures of cities in China with air pollution so bad citizens have resorted to wearing masks. To help improve the environment, the Chinese government recently implemented new rules severely restricting the import of recycled plastics and recycled paper.

With the paper mill industry declining in the US, we have been shipping much of our baled paper to China, where high-quality recycling is made into products such as cereal boxes and shipping cartons.

Historically, China has accepted 4 to 5 percent impurities in bales of recycled materials. Now, China will only accept bales containing less than 1 percent of those impurities. It is a big change that will be challenging to meet.

It’s a small world and all things environmental are interrelated. If we can help China make progress in protecting the environment, we all win.

The new restrictions also impact the San Francisco recycling program financially. When we don’t meet China’s quality standard for recycling bales, we must ship them to other paper mill locations, such as in Vietnam. That means higher transportation costs, which ultimately affect San Francisco residents and businesses.

We have an advantage because San Francisco has a reputation for producing high-quality bales of recycling. That’s because most San Franciscans actively participate in the green bin composting collection program. When we separate banana peels, coffee grounds, and food-soiled paper, they do not touch recycled paper. This keeps recycled paper dry and clean and helps San Francisco comply with China’s new quality requirements.

The City and Recology are taking the challenge to reduce impurities in our recycling bales head on.

We invested 11 million upgrading Recycle Central in 2016 and will invest another $3 million this year. This is where materials put in your blue bins go to be recycled. The new equipment at Recycle Central allows us to mine deeper into the recycling stream. That supports San Francisco’s quest for zero waste, the goal of sending nothing to landfill or incineration.

We are also stepping up educational outreach to residents and businesses. We are sending informational letters to customers and updating posters and bin stickers with current information about what goes where. Please visit our website to download flyers to post in your home or business.

Recology collection drivers are increasing vigilance to ensure materials are kept separated and are also leaving friendly reminders when they find improperly sorted materials.

We will continue to provide updates and raise public awareness on this issue through articles in our customer newsletters, website, and social media platforms.

Please keep recycling and composting, with even more care.