Recycling just got harder, thanks to China’s “National Sword” policy on importing paper and plastics from the U.S. and other nations. One might not think that China’s importing policies would affect what goes into one’s recycling bin, but the recycling industry across the country is scrambling to find new markets for its materials.
Last spring, China announced it would no longer import 24 different types of paper and plastics that previously had been recycled. This is an attempt to bring a cleaner product to the commodities market. Previously, the bales of materials the U.S. has shipped to China were full of recycling contaminants. Food, liquids, and oil can contaminate paper and plastic bags, and Styrofoam, plant pots, and garden hoses are frequently found in plastic collection bins. Once an impurity is found in a bale, it can make the whole load unusable.
Lincoln County Recycling has been monitoring the market closely and has been researching alternatives. One option is to discontinue collecting No. 1 and No. 3-7 plastics from local transfer stations, which would add to the amount of trash, increasing tipping fees and transportation costs to the Towns. Another option is to separate out No. 1 plastic from the remaining No. 3-7 plastic, creating two different types of products collected. When these plastics are baled separately, they are turned into a product that has a domestic market, eliminating the impact of the Chinese ban. Since this will continue to save our towns’ disposal costs, Lincoln County Recycling will be providing collection bins for each transfer station to collect plastics separated.
How will this impact local residents? If one uses the Nobleboro, Waldoboro, Bristol, Dresden, and Whitefield recycling collection bins, one is asked to separate No. 1 plastics from No. 3-7 plastics. This will ensure that Lincoln County Recycling can continue to collect and bale these plastics to sell to a third party. Any plastics not sorted will be rejected and sent to the trash. The bins should be clearly marked, but one can ask the transfer station attendant which bin is designated for the No. 1 plastics.
Why is this important? Lincoln County Recycling saved local towns over $642,000 in 2017 in tipping and transportation fees when compared to single-stream recycling used by other transfer stations. Efforts in sorting recyclables from trash makes a difference in one’s property tax bill.
How can one help? Separate recyclables correctly and use the right collection bin. Only recycle clean paper, boxes, and containers. If a plastic container does not have number and recycling triangle printed on it, throw it away. Keep trash out of the recycle bins. When in doubt, ask for help.
For more information about the “National Sword” program, go to sierraclub.org/sierra/plastic-waste-piles-china-s-ban-goes-effect.