Important to continue: Changes possible in recycling industry

If I had a dime for every time someone told me that they fill their recycling bin twice as quickly as they fill their trash bin, I would be able to buy a fancy coffee. Good job, area residents. This tells me that people have been listening.

In the wake of the news from China, it is more important than ever to continue to recycle. In early 2018 China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection will enact a ban on the import of certain solid wastes as raw materials to protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health. If you’re like me, I thought “good for China” when I read about the ban. “They need to clean up their environment. How many times on the news have I seen people wearing masks to walk down a street? The smog and pollution must be terrible over there.”

Well, as I continued to read about the issue, I found out some scary facts for the U.S. recycling industry when this ban takes effect:

The U.S. exports almost one-third of its recycling, and about half of that goes to China

The ban stems from recycling that is exported from the U.S. to China that includes too many non-recyclable materials that are “dirty” and/or even “hazardous” according to the npr.org website

Many U.S. companies in the recycling industry will have to find new buyers or stop collecting scrap plastics, including PET, PVC, polyethylene, and polystyrene (Styrofoam) and mixed papers

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries president Robin Weiner said, “If implemented, a ban on scrap imports will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and closure of many recycling business throughout the United States”

What can we do in central Indiana to address this ban of materials in China? Keep recycling and focus on quality. Make sure everything is clean before placing it in your recycle bin. Rinse those peanut butter containers or put them in the dishwasher (if there is room, only run a dishwasher when it is full). If a container is too contaminated it will have to be thrown away. Vegetable oil containers are a good example, they are hard to rinse out, the water and energy used to clean them outweighs the benefit of recycling.

Keep recycling and focus on quality. Look for the recycle symbol (arrows in the shape of a triangle) on plastics. If you don’t see the symbol it is a type of plastic that isn’t recyclable. Try to think of a way to reuse the item. If you’re not sure if something is recyclable ask the company that takes your recyclables before you put it in your bin. Gone are the days of “when in doubt throw it in the recycle bin.”

Providing the recycling industry with quality recyclables will enable the industry to upgrade the infrastructure from collection to processing to manufacturing. According to the National Recycling Coalition, “Instead of shipping half of all recovered recyclables to overseas markets, a refreshed recycling infrastructure will support new American end markets, manufacturers and businesses creating closed loop material streams and lower transportation costs.”

I know there are a lot of people in central Indiana who consistently and passionately recycle their waste material. Keep up the good work and continue to share with me your recycling successes. I predict that the changes coming to the recycling industry will be positive in the long run. As in any situation when there is change, it will hurt at first, but it is impossible to grow without it.

Kari Spurgeon is the education coordinator at the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District. She can be reached at 812-376-2614 or kari.spurgeon@bartholomew.in.gov.