Commentary: Commentary: At the end of 2017, China was the largest recipient of recyclable products on the globe, consuming 40% of all scrap materials sold in the USA, 55% of all paper/fiber, and 51% of all recovered plastics.
But on January 1st, 2018, the People’s Republic of China banned the import of 24 categories of recyclables and will no longer accept low quality or dirty recyclables. China also dropped the acceptable “contamination rate” to an incredibly difficult-to-achieve .5% from the previously acceptable 5%. In one swift move, recyclables from around the globe were banned from entering China.
THE IMPACT ON LAS CRUCES:
In Las Cruces we have a very strong 70% participation rate in the curbside recycling program.
The SCSWA contracts with Friedman Recycling to manage our community’s recyclables. Nearby municipalities - El Paso, Albuquerque and Santa Fe – also contract with Friedman, the only recycling processor in our region.
At the February 27th Las Cruces City Council Work Session, recycling was a big top of discussion. Morris Friedman, Friedman Recycling president, explained, “Since January 1, we have added dozens of employees in the El Paso facility alone and dramatically slowed the conveyor belts to throw out now unacceptable low quality and dirty recyclables, and well as other contaminants. That increases our costs, thus causing us to ask to renegotiate our municipal contracts.”
It’s critical that we are transparent with our community. The future of our recycling program is in serious jeopardy.
The City of El Paso faces the same recycling upheaval; our Las Cruces recycling future is, in fact, inexorably tied to El Paso. El Paso is also trying to figure out how to move forward with recycling. The Friedman Recycling plant is there, and without contracts with the City of El Paso, the plant – where Las Cruces recycling is also processed – cannot continue operations.
We have difficult decisions ahead regarding what our future program will look like and what materials will be collected. As the picture comes into focus, three things have become clearer:
- We will have to come together as a community and reduce our contamination rate to comply with the new standards. (“Contamination” means residents putting materials in their blue bins that are NOT recyclable – food, trash, and various non-recyclable materials.)
- There is a local market for clean corrugated cardboard and printer paper,
- The SCSWA will continue to encourage Zero Waste, environmental stewardship and sustainability programs.
As a 5-term Executive Board Member of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition, I am working with local, state and national experts to arrive at solutions to the recycling crisis. I’ve also been named to the new National Recycling Taskforce created by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA).
“The leaders who will serve on this Task Force have expertise in all elements of recycling in North America,” said David Biderman, SWANA Executive Director and CEO. “By tapping their expertise and working with all our industry partners, we will take the appropriate steps to protect and enhance recycling programs in the United States and Canada.”
My goal is to develop workable and sustainable solutions to this massive change to our established and successful recycling programs. This situation is evolving daily and the SCSWA will do everything in our power to find workable solutions and keep the public informed.