California’s Passion for Recycling No Longer Making an Impact

Environmentally-conscious Californians may have good intentions when they actively recycle, but unfortunately, their efforts have become futile. Not all passionate recyclers are aware of where their recyclables are really headed. This week, we discuss the hardships the industry continues to face and where recyclables are actually going.

A Changing Market

Though some Californians are devoted to separating their recyclables from trash, the materials are making their way to landfills due to the challenges posed by China. The Los Angeles Times reports on the issue by stating, “…there’s no longer a recycling market for a lot of the paper, cardboard, plastic and other junk that’s left curbside.” Trash and recyclables are ending up in the same place: housed in landfills. Even though Californians may feel they are doing their part, there is more work to be done.

Another issue that persists stems from the people who toss their garbage into recycling bins without a second thought. Though most of the issues are due to the changing recycling market, these careless actions still have a negative impact.

A Different Kind of Recycling

The environmentally-responsible recyclers who throw their plastic and paper in their respective bins may think they are recycling their trash properly, but most are uninformed of the guidelines. The LA Times reports, “Recyclers these days don’t want items with mixed material such as paper and plastic, or cardboard and tape. It doesn’t pay to tear the stuff apart. Off to the landfill.” For instance, a person throws a greasy pizza box in their recycling bin and feels good about contributing to the environment’s health. In reality, that cardboard has no chance at making a profit in the market due to the food/oil contamination.

A Closed Market

When China – California’s largest market for recycled scrap – started implementing stricter standards for their imports, the entire nation felt the sting. Since then, the issue has escalated, and trash has been piling up in landfills. The LA Times references political strategist Steve Maviglio to shed light on the situation. He posits, “China doesn’t want our garbage anymore…It’s time we cleaned up our own mess.” Because California’s largest market is now closed, our state is forced to sell to smaller markets in Southeast Asian countries like India and Vietnam.

Prices have taken a tremendous drop and profits are not soaring. China no longer wants the contaminated materials the U.S. was initially sending over. California in particular is realizing the harsh realities and is scrambling to come up with a solution. Consumers and avid recyclers do not have as much control to make the change. An abundance of materials ends up in landfills because anything that cannot be recycled gets thrown there.

Responsibility and Blame

There have been a mix of opinions floating around the industry. Some want to point the finger at China while others want to take responsibility to clean up recycling’s future. Californians Against Waste Executive Director Mark Murray is quoted in the LA Times saying, “China’s not the bad guy. To the Chinese credit, they’ve decided they don’t want to have Third World [trash] sorting in their country.” China is shifting the focus to take care of their country and their people. Their government has recently announced key policies in recent weeks, including a plan to ban all recovered material imports by 2020.

In the meantime, the U.S. is trying to come up with solutions, but they have only put a bandage on the issue. There have been several initiatives taken to alleviate past problems and current ones. For instance, California’s Bottle Bill still poses a current challenge. One of the solutions is to implement sustainable recycling programs, but they are costly, and taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

At Berg Mill, we continue to work hard to overcome fluctuating commodity markets, opening markets in other countries, forging strategic alliances, and improving domestic processing capabilities. We would like to help you move off any paper, plastic, or metal scrap. Berg Mill has the expertise and know-how to navigate through these troubled waters.

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.