The recycling business is changing
May 07, 2018 02:41PM ● Published by City Journals Staff
Public Education director at Trans-Jordan Landfill standing on contaminated waste from recycling bins. (Lesha Earl/courtesy)
By Erin Dixon | firstname.lastname@example.org
“[Recycling is] a market that’s in freefall, and that’s changing a lot of things,” Director of the Trans-Jordan Landfill Mark Hooyer said to the West Jordan City Council April 11.
The Trans-Jordan Landfill is made up of seven member cities that own the landfill, including West Jordan, Sandy, Draper, Riverton, Herriman, Murray and Midvale. They are in charge of the collection and disposal of all these cities waste, as well as the green waste and recycled items.
Changes in the Recycling Market
A large portion of items that were put into our recycling bins was previous sold and shipped overseas to China. “In 2016, the U.S. averaged 4,000 containers per day of recycling scrap shipping back to China,” Hooyer said.
Today, that number is reduced by 90 to 95 percent, which means that only about 100 containers a day are now shipped overseas. United States and China’s politics have altered the export and foreign demand for our recycled waste. “The “Green Fence” policy was enacted in 2013, which authorized China’s rejection of loads of certain scrap materials that didn’t meet various standards. In January 2018, China enacted the “National Sword” policy which outright bans 24 types of materials,” Hooyer said. “In addition, “National Sword” placed a daunting 0.5 percent contamination rate on shipments. That means that 20 pounds of contamination is enough to reject an entire one-ton bale of recycled product. It’s a near-impossible standard that U.S. recyclers haven’t been able to meet.”
These new policies mean that cities are now being approached to help pay for recycling rather than making a profit. With a massive decrease in profits, the business of recycling must change.
“What that has done is that has killed the recycling market,” Hooyer said.
Contamination of non-recyclables in the recycling bins also contributes to the amount that is dumped into the landfill—from large contaminants such as laptops and toilets to innocent mistakes like plastic bags. There are things that people think are recyclable but in reality must be dropped at a specific recycling collection bin, such as plastic bags, heavy metals and glass.
As much as 25 percent of what is collected from the curbside is dumped into the landfill instead of being recycled.
“Contamination is assessed at the material recovery facility where recycling is sorted and put into bales to be shipped to the actual recycler,” said Lesha Earl, manager of public education at Trans-Jordan. “The process of sorting through recycling relies on labor-intensive efforts to weed out the contamination. In a perfect situation, workers can remove a contaminant in the sorting process, but more often than not the contamination spreads to surrounding material, sometimes even ruining the entire load.”
The only solution is education. To make a difference, each household must know what is appropriate for their curbside bin, as well as where to take the other potential recyclables.
“Not all plastics are recyclable,” Earl said. “Even if an item has a recycling symbol, it is not necessarily recycled locally. Trans-Jordan is working with both MRFs and all of the recycling haulers in our area to provide accurate and updated information on recycling through our ‘Be Bright, Recycle Right!’ campaign.”
The top-10 most common items found in a curbside recycling bin are:
- Plastic Bags
- Needles/biohazardous waste
- Wire, hose, cords, rope and chains
- Propane Tanks
- Yard waste/wood
- Motor oil containers
- Food waste
- Mercury-containing objects
The Future of Recycling
The future profitability of recycling is unknown, but there are still things people can do to improve the process. Refer to the charts connected to this article to learn more about what to do with items you may think can be reused.
In a perfect world, people would avoid disposing of anything. However, reusing materials for yourself is the next most preferred method of recycling. Then, properly sorting the waste to the correct facility is the next course of action.
A Note on Green Waste
Green waste is turned into compost on the Trans-Jordan Landfill site. After it is collected, it is put through a process of watering and turning for four to five months before it is screened for size and then available to the public for purchase.