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China Says - No More Trash!

Azusa MRF Tour - July 4, 2014 022The vast majority of California’s residents as well as those of many other states and countries dutifully separate their waste materials into waste and recycling bins – and mostly they get it right. However, sometimes things get in the wrong bin. The contents of recycling bins are combined in trucks, transported and then sorted into various types of plastics, paper, magazines, cans, bottles and more at the material recovery facilities (MRFs).

For many years China has been the world’s largest consumer of our recyclables, turning them into new materials to be exported around the world. However, recent changes in China’s import policy are having a profound impact on the recycling industry.

The problem lies in the issue of contamination.

Some of the items which wind up at the MRF are trash, some have food residue still in the container, and others are made of multiple materials that can’t be separated. Even if a material is recyclable, if it gets sorted wrongly it becomes a contaminant.

China is concerned that the volume and type of contaminants in the recyclables they receive is making them a dumping ground for trash and hazardous materials from around the world, so last year the Chinese government announced that the country would effectively ban the import of certain recyclables like mixed paper and plastics that did not meet very strict purity standards. Since China processes roughly 55 percent of the recycled paper fiber and scrap plastic worldwide, this is causing mass disruption in processing recyclable materials.

Historically China allowed for up to 10 percent contamination of recyclables. Now it has imposed a strict limit of 0.5 percent.

What does this mean for us?

To reduce contaminants, MRFs have had to significantly slow down their sorting lines and double the number of sorting staff to try and meet these new purity standards. Even with these changes, it is very challenging. A small amount of contamination in a 2,000 lb bale can result in the entire bale being rejected. A few contaminated bales can result in an entire tanker load of recyclables being rejected. This is very costly to the recycling industry.

What does this mean for you?

One way the City is stepping up to help reduce contamination is through a new app which will help you quickly identify what goes in what bin and how to dispose of all unwanted materials. Coming soon - Look for RecycleTO in your app store! Although the City is doing everything it can to keep costs down, there will be a possible rate increase in trash rates later this year to cover additional sorting costs. Some cities have already seen increases. As staff review and evaluate waste hauler costs, we will assess the need for increases and keep you informed.

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