Recycling, recycling everywhere with no place to go
Unfortunately, there is a huge recycling problem in the United States and the world: We have recycling piling and piling up because China has put a ban on buying the world’s plastic and mixed paper recycling.
You probably didn’t know that up until Jan. 1, 2018, China had been purchasing over half of the world’s plastic and paper recycling to process in China. That has all come to a screeching halt, as six months ago they announced a ban on any imported solid waste that had more than a 0.5 percent contamination rate. A 0.5 percent rate is extremely high and pretty much an unattainable standard. Currently, the U.S. achieves a 1.5 percent contamination rate, and would most likely be able to lower it to under 1 percent, but not to 0.5.
China decided to ban the solid waste coming into the country with higher contamination rates because of the pollution the contamination was causing China. They have committed to “protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health” and focus on recycling their own solid waste, so they have closed the door on the rest of the world.
The China ban has been a major upset worldwide in the flow of recyclables. In 2015, China bought 49.6 million metric tons of solid waste; that same year the United States shipped more than 16 million metric tons to China, which was worth more than $5.2 billion. Last year, the United States sent 4,000 shipping containers filled with recyclable solid waste every day to China.
In the United States and worldwide, local recycling businesses that take the curbside waste have piles and piles of paper and plastic mounting that they do not know what to do with. The United States currently does not have the facilities to recycle all of the waste in the country, and to gain the capability to process the quantity we produce will take a very long time.
There is a risk that curbside recycling may have to be halted until a solution or purchaser is identified. Halting recyclable collection would mean everything would head to the landfill. Europe recycles 30 percent of its plastics; the United States recycles just 9 percent.
In the United States, about 15 percent of what is put into recycling containers curbside is trash that should be headed to the landfill. This contamination is a problem, and the sorting facilities try to deal with this, but they are not able to completely rid the waste of all contamination.
What can you do, you ask? First, educate yourself on what is and is not allowed in our recycling. The Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District has a wonderful website that explains what you can do with pretty much anything you are looking to get rid of (www.cuyahogarecycles.org).
What should go into your curbside recycling: cans, cartons, glass, paper and boxes, and plastic bottles and jugs. That’s it. This means that plastic cups (the red ones that are so popular) are landfill trash. Also, any kind of plastic clamshell container, such as ones used for berries, is also landfill trash. The type of plastic used for cups and clamshells is too brittle and falls apart during processing.
Also, no plastic plates or utensils are accepted in recycling, regardless of the plastics number on the bottom. In fact, the Solid Waste District is asking that we don’t even check the number for recycling anymore, as it does not correlate to if it can be recycled or not.
Shredded paper is not accepted curbside either (see below about what to do with sensitive documents). The District also asks that you do not put anything smaller than 2 square inches in recycling as that is too small to process.
Your next step to help relieve the global recycling problem is to reduce your single-use plastic and paper use. Bring your own bags to the store (as well as your own produce bags), bring your own coffee mug to the coffee shop, and fill your reusable water bottle from the tap. When given a choice, choose a can of pop over a plastic bottle. Also, try to limit your use of paper as much as you can.
Think twice about which documents you need to print and cancel any unwanted junk mail and catalogues. The city of Bay Village and the Green Team are hosting a shredding event on April 21 at the police station. When you bring sensitive documents to the shredding event, they will be recycled. You can also recycle shredded paper by placing it in a paper bag and putting it in the Paper Retriever bins around town. It is not accepted in the curbside bins.
It is my opinion that China's ban will force the United States and other industrialized countries to deal with and take responsibility of its own waste. This means drastically reducing the amount we produce. As I write in my column all the time: you (yes, you!) can and will make a difference. We are each, as individuals, responsible for doing our own part and when each of our actions is combined, we can change the world.