China Tightens Recycling Import Rules

The environmental impacts from industrial production in China are both well-known and widespread. In an effort to protect the environment and address public health concerns, the Chinese government recently implemented new rules that severely restrict the import of recycled plastics and recycled paper.

The decline of paper mills and plastics recycling facilities in the US, has lead to the shipping of these materials to China as the most financially viable option for recycling.  Historically, China’s policy has accepted between 4 and 5 percent impurities or contamination in bales of recycled materials. However, in reality many bales of recycled materials contained significantly more than 4 to 5 percent.  This contamination includes any materials outside of the baled commodity.  As part of the new regulations, China will only accept bales containing less than .05 percent of those impurities. This is a big change that will be challenging to meet.  Watch’s video explaining the issue here.

It’s a small world, and environmental pollution knows no borders. If we can help China make progress in protecting the environment, we all win.

The new restrictions also impact Recology’s recycling program financially. When we don’t meet China’s quality standard for paper or plastic bales, we must ship them to other recycling locations, such as India. That means higher transportation costs, higher processing costs, and a lower commodity value.

We have exceedingly high participation in recycling programs, demonstrating our commitment to finding the best and highest use for materials leaving our homes, schools and businesses each day.  King County residents actively participate in the green bin composting collection program. When we separate banana peels, coffee grounds, and food-soiled paper, they do not end up in the recycling bin. This keeps recycled paper and plastics dry and clean and helps us reduce contamination.

Recology and our partners are taking the challenge to reduce contamination in our recycling bales head on.  We’ve slowed down our sorting technology to provide additional time to remove contamination at our Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in South Seattle, and perform audits of the material that enters this facility. This facility is where the materials in your blue bins go to be recycled. These new processes support our efforts to keep valuable material from entering the landfill.

We are also stepping up educational outreach to residents and businesses by performing waste audits and educational presentations and providing technical assistance with a heavy focus on proper recycling techniques. Please visit our website to sign up for a tour of our recycling facility to see first-hand how the sorting process works.  You can also download flyers to post in your home or business or find out more information about our educational programming.

Finally, Recology collection drivers are closely monitoring materials for contamination.  Our outreach team is engaging customers with 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.