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Republic spells out new rules for recycling in Edmonds (thanks to China)


Last updated 6/18/2018 at Noon

What do you throw in your recycling bin? Apparently, China wants to know.

This week, the majority of Edmonds’ addresses received a letter from Republic Services, the waste removal provider to nearly all city residents, about the “market conditions of the recyclables.”

The critical takeaway of the letter was a nearly $1 rate surcharge to recycling rates for residential customers because China is dictating what can and cannot be in our recycle bins every other week.

Republic Services called this a temporary rate hike during an investigation of the options for how to process everything we throw into our recycle bins.

What is the connection between your plastic salsa container, wine bottle, or newspaper and China?

China is the largest consumer of recyclable materials from the U.S. and worldwide, and recyclable materials are America’s sixth largest export to China. In other words, U.S. recyclers process very little of the recyclable materials that we toss into the bins, and especially on the West Coast, the majority of that waste goes directly to China.

Earlier this year, China enacted a policy called National Sword, which banned the import of many recycled materials and to lower the contamination levels within the recycled materials that would be accepted. This was an update to the more creatively titled Operation Green Fence policy the country adopted in 2013 to reduce waste importation and contamination in recyclable materials.

Under National Sword, China has banned a wide range of items that we are used to putting into our recycle bins every day, like unsorted paper and plastics with the numbers 3-7. National Sword also dictates extremely low contamination rates of our recyclable materials, from 3 to 5 percent down to 0.5 percent. (How well do you rinse your recyclables or how well do you separate items before putting them into your recycle bin?)

I have definitely fallen out of the habit of looking for the little triangle of arrows on my plastic to see what number is there, but we have to again. Only 1 and 2 plastics are accepted by China, but nearly all current recycling programs mandate the inclusion of mixed paper and some of the plastics, those numbered 3-7, that China will no longer take.

No more clear food packaging, ketchup or syrup bottles, the plastic bottle your vitamins come in, water jugs, and definitely not plastic bags. The mix of recycling that gets picked up on our curbs is less and less valuable on the recyclables market, and that means higher costs to us or finding a way to make our trash more appealing.

The U.S. waste service industry is going to have to change to adjust to the new normal for garbage. So are we.

We know that single-use plastics are a major contributor to some of the critical environmental issues we are facing as a planet, and now it is harder to recycle them. What is the answer? Stop using them.

Unless you need it for your health or safety, avoid the straw or the plastic takeout container. The little plastic trays under so many products we buy in stores, let alone those in plastic wrapping.

When you really think about it and try not to use single-use plastics, it is quite the challenge, but perhaps a challenge more of us need to have the courage to do.

The letter most of us received from Republic Services invited Edmonds residents to attend a public meeting of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in Olympia on June 28, since it is the governing body that approves such rate surcharges (more info at utc.wa.gov).

No matter what happens there, it just got a whole lot more complicated for our waste servicer to deal with a majority of the recyclable materials that we used to feel better about throwing into the recycle bin than the garbage bin.

The letter said, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Or perhaps, try even harder to have less to throw out.


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