I’ve never been the kind of person who got into baseball statistics. Jackie Robinson’s slugging percentage was .474. Dwight Gooden’s earned run average was 1.53. A baseball weighs 5 ounces. I had to look that all up. I suppose I’ve always simply enjoyed either watching or playing the game. And since I never really had the need to pay attention to the stats, professional or otherwise… I never did. But I did have a coach in high school who tried to teach me that knowing my stats would make me a better ball player since I would know which parts of my game needed improvement.
Now as a professional in the solid waste industry, there is a number that is taking center stage. 0.5%. That is China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) final quality of standard for certain imported recyclables that was announced this month. This contamination standard will take effect for North American recycling operations on March 1st of this year.
This new threshold has been the cause of some pretty major disruption across the recycling industry.
Is it possible that we’ve been simply just “playing the game” without concern for our contamination statistics because those numbers were so easily achieved? Are the improvements that China is asking for impossible to reach?
The International Scrap and Recycling Institute (ISRI) had this response: “ISRI is very disappointed to see the Chinese Government finalizing its Environmental Protection Control Standards and failing to take the opportunity to bring them in line with global standards that reflect manufacturing requirements and are utilized by environmentally responsible recycling operations in the U.S. and around the world,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “We continue to be supportive of the Chinese Government’s drive to improve the environment in China, but we continue to hope that such support can be realized through collaboration that achieves China’s environmental improvement goals without impairing trade of high quality, specification-grade scrap commodities required by China’s manufacturing sector. ISRI continues to respectfully request an opportunity for dialogue on these critical issues, and obtain a delay in implementation to ensure full compliance.”
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) had a similar reaction: “SWANA is disappointed the Chinese government did not modify its waste import restrictions in response to the serious concerns raised by North American, European, and Asian governmental authorities and associations,” said David Biderman, SWANA Executive Director and CEO. “We support the MEP’s efforts to improve the environment in China, but these extraordinary restrictions are already adversely impacting recycling programs throughout North America.”
The National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) didn’t stray far but did strike a slightly hopeful chord: “NWRA has always supported China’s efforts to improve its environment. However, we believe there are better ways to achieve those goals than to tighten restrictions on imported recyclables. We have said before that the .5 percent standard would be nearly impossible for our members to meet and it could cause some short-term disruptions in the industry. However, it could also present opportunities as our members continue to adjust. As an association, we will continue to work with our industry partners and the federal government to reduce the burden these stringent rules have placed on the waste and recycling industry,” said NWRA President and CEO, Darrell Smith.
Whatever happens between now and March 1st remains to be seen, but I’m willing to bet that we will remain in the business of waste management and recycling even though solutions may elude us at the moment. What else is there to do? We can’t quit.