Kelso consumers will no longer be able to recycle plastics due to China’s refusal to accept American recyclable material.
Longview’s curbside program will not be affected and will continue to accept No. 1 and No. 2 plastic.
“There are thousands of tons of used plastic with no place to go to be processed. Therefore, at this time, there is no viable market for any plastics,” according to a letter from Waste Control Inc. to the city of Kelso posted on the city’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon.
Waste Control, the city’s contract waste hauler, said it “has no choice but to remove the plastic (recycling) containers in the Kelso drop-off program until further notice,” according to the Oct. 17 letter from Joe Willis, one of Waste Control’s co-owners.
China historically has processed about 50 percent of the recycled plastic from the U.S. West Coast, but last year it adopted new regulations that made it “impossible” for processors there to accept American plastics, Willis explained. There are no plastics re-processors in the Northwest, leading to a glut of material.
Containers for other recyclables such as glass jars, newspaper, mixed paper and aluminum cans will remain in place.
Waste Control officials did not immediately return calls, so it was unclear Thursday afternoon whether it will continue to accept plastics consumers bring directly to the company’s plant on Third Avenue.
Kelso City manager Steve Taylor said he did not believe Waste Control’s decision will lead to more littering in the city, “but from an environmental standpoint we want to do everything we can to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill.”
No figures were available Thursday for how much plastic Waste Control recycles in Kelso.
Taylor said he understands the company’s decision. “The overseas markets are dead. There is a lot of innovation going on right now in the recycling industry and we think there will be solution, but it may not be in place for one to four years,” Taylor said, basing his comment on a conversation with Willis.
Longview’s curbside program will continue to accept plastics because it is not directly affected by China’s decision. All recyclables are bundled together and shipped to re-processors in other Asian nations, said Gregg Hannon, the city’s solid waste/recycling coordinator.
“All that is collected and put into shipping containers. The Asian markets we are sending to are still accepting our recyclables, including plastics. So we are fine and not affected by these decision” by China, Hannon said.
Longview’s program accepts No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, newspapers and magazines, mixed paper, aluminum and tin cans, glass beverage and food bottles, paper milk and juice cartons, egg cartons, cereal and similar boxes and cardboard. Longview residents have recycled more than 52 million pounds of material since 2005, according to the city.
The trouble caused by China’s new standards has been brewing for some time, but as recently as June Willis had projected that it posed less trouble for Cowlitz County.
China told the World Trade Organization in July 2017 that it will no longer accept 24 different recyclable items, including unsorted mixed paper or mixed plastics. China takes more of North America’s recyclable material than any other country. In 2016, $5.6 billion in scrap commodities were sent to China from the U.S. The exchange exists because shipping recyclable goods to China is inexpensive, and Chinese manufacturers use those cheap materials in processing.
China also reduced its contamination threshold from 1.5 percent to 0.5 percent starting in March. (Contamination here means how much non-recyclable material is mixed in with genuinely recyclable material). State Department of Ecology officials stated that the 0.5 limit “would render virtually all domestic recovered materials ineligible for sale to China.”
Wineke said that “China’s not wrong” to ask for the U.S. to raise its recycling standards.
“You want clean, recyclable commodities,” he said. “You want everything you put in the recycling bin to be turned into new materials, and if you put things in there that have to be thrown away, it makes no sense. It gets shipped around the world and disposed of in the end.”