MSW Management

A New Recycling Learning Curve

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A handful of friends and I usually get together for a weekly Trivia Night at our local watering hole. At our most recent cerebral competition, as we were placing our drink orders, one of our teammates asked for a glass of water without a straw. Immediately, multiple conversations broke out about the banning of plastic straws. Being the editor of MSW Management, I took it upon myself to educate my peers on the current state of the recycling industry.

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You’ve probably seen or heard about all the attention that the State of California is getting regarding the ban of plastic straws. Just this week, the City of Santa Barbara, where the offices of MSW Management are located, successfully banned the use of plastic straws, plastic stirrers, and plastic cutlery. (This is the same city that said a couple of weeks ago that it’s OK to throw away your single use plastic bags.) Before I started to explain the reasoning behind a plastic straw ban, I had to explain how the United States came to rely so heavily on China to do our recycling.

I revealed to them that there were now tons of recyclables just sitting at ports and MRFs with nowhere to go. By the year 2030, there may be as much as 100 million tons of trash without a destination.

With all of that material piling up, people are bound to notice and wonder where it’s all coming from. Maybe that’s why mainstream media is now trying to spread the word of our recycling industry being in peril. The Associated Press published an article a couple of days ago called, “Market Forces Put America’s Recycling Industry in the Dumps.” The article explains how the business of recycling is upside down compared to how it was operating just a couple of years ago.

“It all stems from a policy shift by China, long the world’s leading recyclables buyer. At the beginning of the year it enacted an anti-pollution program that closed its doors to loads of waste paper, metals, or plastic unless they’re 99.5% pure. That’s an unattainable standard at US single-stream recycling processing plants designed to churn out bales of paper or plastic that are, at best, 97% free of contaminants such as foam cups and food waste.

The resulting glut of recyclables has caused prices to plummet from levels already depressed by other economic forces, including lower prices for oil, a key ingredient in plastics.

The three largest publicly traded residential waste-hauling and recycling companies in North America—Waste Management, Republic Services, and Waste Connections—reported steep drops in recycling revenues in their second-quarter financial results. Houston-based Waste Management reported its average price for recyclables was down 43% from the previous year.”

So how did I explain this history in the 10 minutes between getting our drinks and the first trivia question? I showed them this video titled, “Why Your Recyclables Might Have No Place To Go” from the October 4, 2018, edition of PBS NewsHour.

If you’re trying to explain the recycling situation to a friend or family member who is not in the industry, this is a great primer.

Is there any information or history that you think should be added to the video that you feel the average citizen should know?

Tell me in the comment section below. GX_bug_web

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