We wanted to share an article from USA Today featuring our recycling facility, E.L. Harvey & Sons in Westborough, to help educate our customers about a growing crisis in the waste services industry affecting recycling programs across the US. In the past, Mr. Trashman has allowed extra recyclables outside of what fits in your toter, but you may see we have to start limiting how much recycling we are able to collect each week since our recycling costs have now reached levels comparable to trash.
Want to know what you can do to help? This article has 4 easy tips for how you can help reduce the items you put out and the contamination they cause. We also encourage you to review the What’s Recyclable? page on our website to find out what should/should not be recycled in your curbside toter.
After you collect your cans, bottles and paper, then put them out by the curb, do you ever think about where everything goes after the truck picks things up? Largely, it goes to China.
Every day, nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of recyclables leave U.S. ports bound for China. China sends the U.S. toys, clothes and electronics; in return, some of America’s largest exports back are paper, plastic and aluminum.
But that equation is changing as of Jan. 1 — China is enforcing its new “National Sword” policy, which bans 24 types of solid waste, including various plastics and unsorted mixed papers, and sets a much tougher standard for contamination levels.
China notified the World Trade Organization about the ban in July, essentially saying the country would no longer act as the world’s trash dump. Currently, China consumes 55% of the world’s scrap paper and is a major destination for other recyclables.
The National Sword policy follows China’s “Green Fence,” a 10-month policy the country enacted five years ago, which set initial standards for lower contamination levels for recycling.
The ban will undoubtedly hurt recycling operators in China that rely on the import of raw materials. But delivering a cleaner China is paramount for Communist Party politicians.
The National Sword is also already being felt throughout the U.S. About a 45-minute drive west of Boston in the city of Westborough, Massachusetts, bales of paper are stacking up in a parking lot.
“We’re looking at 150 to 200 tractor trailer loads of paper. It’s stacked approximately 12 feet high, and it goes for quite a distance,” says Ben Harvey, president of E.L. Harvey & Sons, a family-run business since 1911.
To be clear: This situation is not normal.
“No, our business is to bring it in, process it and move it out as quickly as we can,” says Harvey.
Harvey can’t sell the 2,000-pound bales to China because the contamination levels — the trash that’s accidentally mixed in, something like the remnants of a greasy pizza box that gets thrown in with the recycling — almost certainly exceed China’s rigorous new standards. If he had continued putting bales on ships a few weeks ago, they wouldn’t have reached China until the ban would’ve already been in effect on Jan. 1.
Harvey is hoping that China and the U.S. can work out a deal or he can find other processing mills in Vietnam or Thailand. Selling the material in the U.S. simply isn’t an option.
“Because everything was going offshore, the mills have been slow to develop in the United States to handle this material,” Harvey says. “With the tightness in the marketplace, there might be mills that will be built, but that takes four to five to six years to put in a mill that will handle the capacity that we’re currently looking at.”
In the meantime, he’s growing increasingly concerned as the bales of paper take over more and more of his parking lot.
“If this stuff doesn’t move, and we don’t know what to do with it, we can’t keep it forever,” he says. “At some point, it’s going to start to degrade. The other thing that could happen is that if we can’t find outlets — and I’m not talking about just E.L. Harvey & Sons, I’m talking about the industry as a whole — we’re going to stop bringing material into our facilities. And that’s going to impact recycling programs throughout the country.”
In other words, trucks could stop collecting our curbside recycling.