A decision made by China last year to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left many United States municipalities scrambling for alternatives.
The withdrawal of the biggest market on earth has caused cities across the country to rethink their commitment to recycling. And recent headlines about how it is stalling an industry designed to keep such waste out of landfills has our readers wondering, “Just where is my recycling going?”
The good news is that the city of Dallas uses a waste company that launders recyclables domestically, which means that instead of shipping to other countries with lax laws, the bulk of plastics, paper, and glass put out every week by residents has the opportunity to be recycled.
The bad news: Despite 80% of Dallas’ single-family households participating in a recycling program and a new ordinance going live in January that will make it easier for residents of apartment complexes and multi-family buildings to recycle, the city’s waste diversion rate remains at 20%. That means that only 20% of the waste does not end up in landfills.
“We are working with the city to educate the public about recycling better.” -Andrea Rodriguez
So, whose fault is that?
A common problem is “wish-cycling,” where residents throw unrecyclable products into their blue bin in an attempt to be more environmentally-friendly, not knowing this practice does more harm than good.
“We have a lot of problems with contamination because of wish-cycling,” said Andrea Rodriguez, FCC Environmental Services spokesperson. “We are working with the city to educate the public about recycling better.”
Recycling contamination is when incorrect items or materials are put in recycling bins or when the right items and materials are prepared the wrong way, such as food residue in containers, recyclables in plastic bags, and shrink wrap recycling mixed in with cardboard.
Danielle McClelland, the division manager for Zero Waste Dallas, said being aware of what you recycle can go a long way.
“Recyclables should be loose in the container, the lid stays closed so that materials stay dry,” she said. “These materials still have value, but that value goes down when items are contaminated.”
Single-family households in Dallas are charged $27.26 monthly to recycle, but with a flooded domestic market resulting from China’s strict contamination standards, the value gained from recyclables has gone down and could affect residents soon.
Some American cities have decided to alter what their recycling programs accept, such as in Akron, Ohio, which recently stopped taking glass.
“In Dallas, we have not changed our commodities,” McClelland said. “Our recycling processor is able to get good quality glass out of the recycling stream, though some commodity prices have dropped lower than what it costs to process their materials.”