Mill Creek takes action to reset the recycling industry
Last updated 9/20/2019 at 1:36pm
China is the largest manufacturing nation in the world, and the most sizeable consumer of recyclables. U.S. recyclers have relied on demand from the Chinese market and low shipping rates to China.
There is no country or combination of countries that can consume the amount of material China has historically imported for manufacturing, according to the Washington Refuse and Recycling Association.
The West Coast is suffering the strongest impacts due to historical reliance on Chinese markets for recyclables. Many materials are flooding ports and disrupting markets in other countries. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia have also taken steps to reduce imports and contamination.
China launched a customs program called "Operation Green Fence” in 2013, aimed at increasing environmental quality by reducing waste importation and contamination in recyclable materials. China instituted a customs crackdown on waste importation called "National Sword” in 2017. The latest phase, called "Blue Sky 2018," is a 10-month long period of special actions against foreign garbage smuggling.
As a result of these policies, China banned the import of many recyclable materials on Jan. 1, 2018, and lowered the contamination rate for recyclables not covered by the ban to 0.5 percent.
Operation Blue Sky will increase the recycling rate and use contamination charges to drive consumer support. The charges will only be imposed after multiple warnings and efforts at education.
“China has implemented a series of customs programs that have effectively turned our system upside down,” said Public Sector Manager Michelle Metzler in a waste management presentation at a City Council meeting Sept. 10.
Mill Creek has taken action to reset the recycling industry by improving recycling processes and increasing consumer education. The city has teamed with local and national organizations to provide educational tools, said Metzler.
“We’ve had to slow down our processing lines (belts) and add employees in order to grab as many contaminated materials as possible and improve the quality of the material we are preparing,” Metzler said.
Metzler highlighted the importance of statewide recycling education to reduce contamination and create a transparent process for disposal of recyclables. She aims to prioritize real quality recycling over quantity by emphasizing separation of recyclables and sorting requirements.
“We strive to be responsible stewards of the environment, even with the challenges we have been facing with these new policies,” Metzler said. “With the steps we have taken, we are in need of help from the City of Mill Creek and this council to ensure that recycling remains a viable program.”