Drop in value sends recycling to dump

posted in: News | 0

You may have heard on the news or read in the paper that, due to restrictions imposed by China and the drastic drop in material prices for plastics, that some recyclers are choosing to landfill plastics rather than recycling them. This is, in fact, true of many recyclers, but not Sedona Recycles.


Prices for most plastics have dropped by over two-thirds in the last few months due to numerous factors. Add to this the Chinese restrictions known as the Green Fence and you have the perfect storm for your recyclables becoming trash.


Now the question can be asked, “Why would a recycler, whose job it is to recycle, choose to landfill recyclable materials?” The answer is that they are not just recyclers. They are trash haulers who have gained a benefit by saying they also recycle. And they do recycle some things. They target the most valuable materials that make up the waste stream. These include aluminum cans, cords cut off of electronics, steel, and cardboard.


These waste and recycling processors are much less concerned if your plastics get recycled. Sedona Recycles is different from these processors. We not only recycle plastics regardless of their monetary value, we also sort them into seven different categories to make sure they have the best chance to become something new again in the U.S. market. At the same time, we educate the public that there are better alternatives to most plastics and help them make the best decisions for their health and the environment.


We have to give credit to the Chinese government for imposing new restrictions, which prohibit bales of mixed plastics. Mixed plastic bales were broken apart and typically sorted through by children to find the highest value plastics. These children sorted the dirty materials with no gloves or protection of any kind. This sorting did not take place in a clean, dry facility, but in the dirt, where they sat and rummaged through the material. Not a pretty picture in and of itself, but to add to the problem, the lower value plastics were being incinerated, contributing to the already heavily polluted air.


In a better-late-than-never attempt, the Chinese government is trying to clean up a major pollution problem that they created by accepting such contaminated material. Unfortunately, they trained many American recycling companies that anything was acceptable. This prompted an increase in single-stream recycling, in which recyclables are placed into one bin and have high contamination rates, and even more troubling, mixed waste collection, in which recyclables are sorted out of trash.


Now, with the brakes on and the prices plummeting, these trash/recycling companies have made the conscious choice to send plastics to the landfill rather than clean up their acts. Keep in mind that plastics in the landfill never break down and disappear. They stay there forever.


So what can you do? First, try to replace plastic whenever possible. Second, know that no matter how low the prices go Sedona Recycles will never send your materials to the landfill. We don’t operate that way. We can tell you how many tons of plastics we ship, where the material goes, and we can even tell you what it becomes. Transparency is important if you want to have the public’s trust. We are in the recycling business and, as an educational nonprofit, we would be remiss if we didn’t let you know some of the problems that exist in our community in regard to responsible recycling.


There is no doubt that times are tough for recyclers. Prices for cardboard and paper have dropped in half and, as stated earlier, plastics prices have dropped by two-thirds. It is easy to see that if a company is in it for the money, they are more concerned about the bottom line than doing what they are charged to do by their own PR; that is, recycle everything. This doesn’t mean only when it is convenient or profitable, it means all the time.


Please think carefully when you choose to recycle. Do your homework and keep this motto in mind, “Smart enough to separate.” This means that, by separating your plastics from paper and paper from glass, you have the very best chance of actually getting these materials recycled. By following this motto, your materials will come back to you as new items and you will have played your part in closing the loop.


by Jill McCutcheon, Sedona Recycles

Sedona Red Rock News

March 18, 2015