Zero waste

Recycling less starts with bringing in even less packaging.

It doesn’t matter how hard I try to reduce my waste and packaging, there will always be something that I am going to need to recycle.

In July 2017, China announced a foreign waste ban on 24 categories of recyclables.

What does this mean for the U.S.?

China holds the top spot in global manufacturing and is the largest importer of recyclable goods. Last year, Chinese manufacturers imported 7.3m metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US, and Japan.

The new ban, set into effect on January 1st, 2018, means that China won’t be accepting many of our recyclables in the form of plastic, mixed paper, textiles and more.

The new rule does not ban the import of recycled plastics and paper altogether, it does limit North America’s ability to export to China. The Chinese government wants to lower the minimum required contamination level from 1.5% to 0.5% and banning the import of 24 categories of solid waste.

What will happen to these materials?

Plastics collected for recycling could go to energy recovery (incineration). They are, after all, a fossil-fuel based material and burn extremely well – so on a positive note, they could generate electricity and improve energy self-sufficiency.

On the other hand, they could end up in the landfill – something I think most of us would prefer to avoid. Some facilities are storing materials until new markets open up. This also brings problems since there have been hundreds of fires at sites where recyclable materials are stored.

Wishful Recycling

Wishful recycling seems to be an ongoing problem as well. This is when people put items in the recycling that they think might be recyclable or should be recyclable. It may seem like we’re doing the right thing by not putting it in the garbage, but in fact, it’s making it more difficult to recycle the items manufacturers actually need. It is actually another form of contamination for the industry. Due to the contamination caused by unwanted garbage, the recyclers have to spend significant resources sorting through garbage in order to be able to extract value from the sorted recyclables.

What are we to do?

Please keep in mind that I strongly believe that recycling isn’t the answer. We really need to focus on reducing our consumption and demand for packaging. But a large part of the population in the U.S. doesn’t seem to be concerned with landfill waste at all. Despite only representing 5% of the world population, the U.S. generates more waste than any other country in the world. According to a recent Yale University/EPA study, the U.S. recycles less than 22% of its discarded materials. That is far less than other developed countries and our recycling levels have not improved in 20 years.

Check out my Zero-waste for Beginners blog post here and Easy Tips for Reducing your Waste, here.

I doubt that recycling is going away anytime in the near future. Hopefully, our facilities are able to find a market for these materials soon.

To avoid wishful recycling and ensure that the items placed in the bin actually do get recycled, ask your local facility what they accept and make sure to properly recycle items by:

  • Removing caps
  • Separating paper from plastic and other material as best you can
  • Clean containers before recycling
  • Don’t toss items that are not accepted into the bin

Recycling dos and don’ts will be different depending on your area, that little triangle on the bottom of your juice bottle doesn’t simply mean that it is recyclable anywhere. What is more important is the number inside the triangle as it will tell you if your local facility can accept it. That little number is a code telling everyone what chemicals went into making that plastic. Here’s a full list of what the individual numbers mean.

You can usually look online to find out what items are accepted at your local facility. I’ve found that calling and speaking with someone was much more efficient in getting my more detailed questions answered. Here are a few ideas for questions to ask your facility to make sure that you are making the most out of the recycling program:

zero waste

Some of these items will not be recyclable in all areas but may need to be taken in or to another facility altogether.

Here is a great guide to help you recycle almost anything.

What do you think? Are there any other questions that one should ask their local recycling facility?