Rumor has it… that your recyclable plastics are being thrown away

rectangular bale of mixed paper coming out of baling machine

Paper being baled for sale and recycling.

Some of you may have heard rumors that some of the recyclable materials you put in your recycling cart or dumpster are being thrown away.

This is, fortunately, not true in Kirkland. So where did the rumor come from?

China is refusing mixed paper and mixed plastics

China, as of January 2018, is no longer accepting imports of bales of mixed paper and mixed plastics from the United States and other parts of the world that contain more than 0.5% of contaminants. That rumor is absolutely true. It is nigh on impossible for materials recovery facilities (MRF’s) in the region to sort mixed paper and plastic to meet the 0.5% contamination standard, making the restrictions tantamount to a ban. (Want to see how our MRF works? Take a free tour in April.)

“Mixed plastics” are plastic resins numbered three through seven, which include things like squeezable plastic bottles, yogurt containers, food storage containers, lids, ketchup bottles, plastic bags, straws, CD cases, medicine bottles, Styrofoam™ food containers, and the like. Mixed plastics only account for less than one percent of the recyclable materials collected in Kirkland, but mixed paper poses a bigger problem, since it comprises about 23 percent.

Why has China chosen to effectively ban these materials from import?

Well, frankly, China is tired of being the world’s dumping ground. It’s a rumor that the Chinese President Xi Jinping watched the movie Plastic China, which served as the genesis for the National Sword restrictions. I encourage you to watch it if you get a chance.

If China won’t take these recyclables, what’s happening to them?

Waste Management is moving these materials into other markets. However, they have had to slow down the processing lines at their recycling centers to meet the contamination standards and improve the marketability of these commodities. Unlike some other cities and service providers on the west coast, there have been no changes to the list of our accepted recyclables in Kirkland and Waste Management is not landfilling these materials.

What can you do to help?

  • Make sure your recyclables are empty, clean, and dry.
  • Only recycle those items on THE LIST.
  • If you’re in doubt, throw it out. Focus on quality not quantity.
  • Please oh please don’t put your recyclables in plastic bags. Place recyclables ­loose in your recycling cart or dumpster.