Ever since China increased its standards for waste products coming into the country in January of 2018, it has accepted only half the waste products that it once did as imported goods from other countries. This has created a backlog of waste material that recyclers don’t know what to do with here in the United States. For example, some of the largest recycling plants here have stopped accepting plastic bags from customers that they use to contain groceries, bread, newspapers, and similar items.

China’s new law is so strict that it will not accept any bale of recyclables that it deems to have more than one-tenth of one percent contamination. This is a huge problem for the United States, especially considering than the recyclable material some centers take in has a contamination rate as high as 30 percent. Below is a breakdown of the top six materials that the United States exports to China along with the reduction or increase in percentage of acceptance since the start of the year:

  • Plastic, down 92 percent
  • Alloy, down 53 percent
  • Paper, down 37 percent
  • Copper, down 23 percent
  • Aluminum, down six percent
  • Ferrous, up seven percent

The Response of American Recycling Centers

Some recycling centers, under huge pressure from the federal government to meet certain sell rates, are simply holding onto their piles of recycled garbage and hoping for trade relations with China to improve. However, they concede that they will quickly run out of room using this strategy. Others have started charging customers larger premiums to accept their recycling material to offset their own costs of storing it. As a last resort, some recycling centers have stopped accepting new donations altogether.

A Wake-Up Call to American Consumers

Unfortunately, the 50 percent reduction of imported recycled materials in China has had the opposite of the intended effect on American consumers. Instead of monitoring their purchases and items they dispose more carefully, some people are choosing to throw previously recyclable materials into the trash. That means that items such as fast-food containers, yogurt cups, newspapers, and soda cans are ending up in landfills instead.

A better solution would be for Americans to take greater responsibility for how they separate their recyclables and trash. They need to take more time and care when preparing their disposables for pick-up to only place clean and non-contaminated items into the recycling bin. This increases the likelihood that China will accept the item as an import and provide much-needed income to recycling centers in the United States.

The Obligation of Private Junk Hauling Companies

Along with American consumers, privates junk hauling companies here also have an obligation to do their part to keep the environment as healthy as possible.

At Fast Haul, as a leading junk hauler in San Francisco Bay area, we do our part by recycling or donating as much of the materials we pick up as possible. We aim to set an example to other junk haulers in California and across the country. Contact us to schedule a free quote