Recyclers not focusing on quality in 2013 will continue to struggle, say conference panelists.
China’s Operation Green Fence, an inspection and tax assessment protocol created and enacted by several Chinese government agencies, has caused turmoil for some U.S. recyclers in 2013, panelists at the Paper Recycling Conference in Chicago agreed.
The panel of recycling executives largely agreed, however, that the long-term effects of Green Fence include a positive and necessary step toward increased secondary commodity quality and uniformity.
“The nature of the materials [Chinese buyers] were dealing with, some of it was less than desirable,” said Bill Caesar of Waste Management Inc., Houston, who had visited Chinese mills in late 2012. “Things had to change.”
Caesar also said the issue goes beyond the efforts of China’s government agencies. “There are a number of [paper] mills in North America that have created their own Green Fence,” he commented.
Greg King of RockTenn, Norcross, Ga., said Green Fence is “probably doing things that should have happened sooner,” referring to standards that have been Chinese law for a number of years before Operation Green Fence began in February 2013.
Caesar said operators of material recovery facilities (MRFs) have struggled with increased residue rates at the same time Green Fence was enacted in part because of the placement of larger recycling collection carts in many cities. “Residents who think something might be recyclable, but they’re not sure, they conclude, ‘I might as well put it in the recycling bin,’” he remarked.
Caesar continued, “It was a bright idea to give homeowners a bigger bin for recycling instead of garbage, but that’s how I end up with garden hoses that wrap around my machinery. I’ve already got residue as it is. I don’t need any more.”
He also commented, “Five years ago you could find a recycling coordinator in a community. That job didn’t make it through the recession.”
Shawn Lavin of Pioneer Industries International, Minneapolis, Minn., said the hauling and recycling industry needed to fill a large void in recycling knowledge to create more effective recycling programs. “This group [those in attendance] needs to do a better job of educating the public. I’m surprised that there is so little policing [of collection].”
Jimmy Yang of brokerage firm Newport CH International LLC, Orange, Calif., said the impact of Green Fence is hard to deny and easy to recognize. “China has become a force to be reckoned with,” said Yang. “Anything China buys goes up in price and anything it sells goes down. Recycling facilities will have to up their game by making investments in equipment and labor,” he remarked regarding a response to Green Fence.
Caesar admitted that Waste Management is among the companies that is investing to do just that. “I throw away or put in the wrong bale a lot of material, such as PET [polyethylene terephthalate] bottles stuck in paper bales,” he remarked. “There are huge opportunities for us to get better.”
The 2013 Paper Recycling Conference partnered with the PSI Conference was Oct. 16-18 at the Marriott Downtown Chicago Magnificent Mile.