China’s Restrictions Cause Seattle to Dump in Landfills

The industry’s loss of its biggest market is causing Seattle’s recycling processor to send hundreds of tons of mixed paper to landfills. Seattle landfills are getting crowded with big bundles of mixed paper packed in every corner. China was the biggest and most prominent market for the mixed paper commodity, but now China’s restrictions have lessened its value.


Permission, Waivers, and Price Points

Republic Services gained permission to send some of the mixed paper to landfills. With the increasing amount of scrap sent to landfills, the safety and health risks are starting to pile up as fast as the mixed paper bales. According to The Seattle Times, Republic Services’ Vice President Pete Keller notes, “Regardless of price point, we haven’t been able to move material on a daily basis.” Though the Republic seeks out new markets and keeps updated equipment, mixed paper continues to overflow landfills. The Seattle Times calls attention to the small amount of mixed paper that this demonstrates in the industry, but it accurately depicts the crisis the U.S. is facing with China’s National Sword policy.

Seattle is feeling the sting of the policy’s effect, as mixed paper is one of the banned items in their policy. They “account for about 40 percent of the material sent to the Republic recycling plant in Sodo for processing.” The Republic has given other cities temporary permission to send mixed paper to landfills along with other recycling divisions granting access to send recyclables to dumps. The Republic’s executives state the worst option is to be sending these materials straight to landfills, especially given that is tends to be costlier to dump recyclables where they don’t belong.


Overcoming the New Price Fluctuations and Finding New Markets

Though the industry is still trying to find relief and some sort of work around, cost is going to be one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. The true impact of the policy will reveal itself on ratepayer bills that will show decreasing commodity prices and heightened processing costs.

Recycling companies have been sending mixed paper to other countries, such as India, Malaysia, Vietnam, and South Korea. These markets do not fill the void though and prices have dropped significantly. On behalf of, The Seattle Times reports, “The average price paid to recyclers in the Northwest, including British Columbia, has plummeted in the last year from $97.50 to $5 a ton as of mid-March.” The processing and shipping costs in these secondary markets are also much higher than China’s. They were sent in empty shipping containers at a lower cost, which is no longer an option with these new Asian markets.


Staying Informed

Even though our country is facing recycling changes and challenges, people should not turn a blind eye to their recycling efforts. Not many are informed on the proper materials that can be recycled, but recycle the items anyway – The Seattle Times calls this aspirational recycling. The requirements are always changing, which is why it is crucial for everyone to stay up-to-date on what items can be recycled and what bins they go in. The information is easily available through your city recycling services. This is a time to refocus and continue education people on the right recycling habits. Any sort of backtracking now could cause more problems in the industry. The Republic continues to install new equipment to reduce contamination. We are hopeful that the industry will overcome this market challenge to lower contamination standards and keep recyclables out of landfills.

At Berg Mill, we continue to work hard on creating solutions to overcome fluctuating commodity markets, opening markets in other countries, forging strategic alliances, and improving domestic processing capabilities.

If you handle large amounts of recycled waste and are looking for solutions to offload idle scrap, please contact our industry veterans at Berg Mill Supply.