In wake of China recycling ban, Washington County says residents must be conscientious of what can be recycled

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After China’s decision to quit accepting recycling materials from other countries, recycling companies have been impacted from the buildup of materials across the U.S., including Southern Utah.

Workers get ready to sort materials on a conveyor belt, shortly after Rocky Mountain Recycling officials unveiled the company’s new material recovery facility in St. George, Utah, Sept. 22, 2017 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

After the ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, companies like Rocky Mountain Recycling in St. George saw an increase in materials, causing the company to hire more staff and slow the pace of its sorting machine.

Read more: Rocky Mountain Recycling unveils new sorting system

Larry Gibbons, vice president of business development and sales for Rocky Mountain Recycling, said the worst part of the recycling ban is here.

“I don’t think it can get worse,” he said. “It’s bad, but it’s showing signs of improvements.”

China used to accept 5 percent of contaminated recycling material, which is incorrect materials put into the system or when correct materials aren’t cleaned properly. Now the country accepts only 0.5 percent of contaminants. According to Waste Management, the national average of contaminated materials in the U.S. is around 25 percent.

Because of that, Gibbons said whatever materials the company receives from its curbside recycling program, workers have to do a significant amount of work to clean the materials in order to sell them. He said the number of employees is up 15-20 percent since the ban.

“We have to slow the sorting machine down in order to have a better look and to be more detailed in what we get out. And then we still have the chance of it possibly not being sold.”

Even if people take the time to recycle, Gibbons said, if the materials are contaminated or can’t be sold, they will end up in the landfill.

Binnies located next to the Bloomington Walmart, St. George, Utah, June 22, 2018 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Rocky Mountain used to ship 60-70 percent of materials to China, Gibbons said. While the company still ships some materials to China, as long as the materials meet the contaminant requirement, the company is having to find alternatives like shipping to different countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand.

The company is also charging more to sort through materials. Washington County Solid Waste sends its recycling material from its Binnie program and curbside recycling program to Rocky Mountain to process. Depending on the commodity, Rocky Mountain would charge on average up to $15 per ton to process. Now it charges up to $50.

Neil Schwendiman, district manager for WCSW, said the increase allows Rocky Mountain to find alternatives and to continue processing.

The ban has created a huge problem across the U.S.

Although the ban has created issues for Rocky Mountain, Gibbons said there are no plans to change its curbside recycling program. The program costs 73 cents a month per resident per household, he said.

With the low cost of the program, Gibbons hopes Washington County residents will continue to use the program and “keep the big picture” of diverting materials away from the landfill. As long as the community is conscientious of what they’re putting in the recycling cans, Gibbons said the program is still worth it.

Schwendiman agreed that residents need to be aware of what materials they’re putting in their recycling cans. Every recycling company is different. While some companies accept glass, WCSW doesn’t.

Every recycling can that WCSW delivers has information on the lid of what materials are and aren’t accepted. If you have any doubts on a material, Schwendiman said to throw it in the regular garbage. If there are any questions on what materials are accepted, you can visit WCSW’s website or Rocky Mountain’s website.

“With the whole ban in China and with recycling in general,” Schwendiman said, “if residents really want to make it work and continue, they need to put some effort into knowing what they can and can’t put in their recycling bins.”

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Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

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  • Fester June 22, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    Too funny, will the county pick up all those worthless bins and stop charging people for it now?

    Don’t forget folks, to be good for the environment be sure and wash out your garbage with lots of extra hot soapy water…….

  • Mike P June 24, 2018 at 10:31 am

    Just charge us more for recycling ! Bada-Bing, Bada-Boom, Problem solved

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