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October 23, 2019

Photo courtesy of Monterey, California, Regional Waste Management District

SWANA report reviews National Sword impact and solutions

The Silver Spring, Maryland-based Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation (ARF) has released a new report, “Resetting Curbside Recycling Programs in the Wake of China,” that it says provides observations and insights regarding the impacts of China’s National Sword Policy on curbside recycling programs in the U.S. and Canada as well as resets that can be made to address them.

National Sword has contributed substantially to a 50 percent reduction in the revenue received from the sale of recyclables recovered through curbside recycling, the report states. This represents a reduction of more than $400 million per year. In addition, it has resulted in increased processing costs and residue rates at material recovery facilities (MRFs).

“The China National Sword Policy is providing recycling program managers with an opportunity to reevaluate the costs, funding mechanisms and materials targeted by their curbside recycling programs in an effort to make them more sustainable and effective,” says Jeremy O’Brien, SWANA director of applied research.

The report presents several findings:

  • About 65 million households in the U.S. are provided with curbside recycling services, which collectively divert about 9 million tons of recyclables annually.
  • The major recyclable commodities that have been affected by National Sword have been mixed paper, mixed plastics and corrugated containers.
  • An analysis of the collection and processing costs and revenue associated with curbside recycling programs indicates that these programs cost homeowners about $6.85 per household per month when recyclables are collected weekly. The impact of China’s policy on MRF revenues and processing costs is estimated to account for 75 cents per household per month, or about 11 percent of this cost.
  • Contamination and residue at MRFs typically range from 15 percent to 25 percent and cost curbside recycling programs more than $1 billion per year nationally when additional collection and processing costs associated with contamination are considered. While contamination has not been caused by National Sword, it has been highlighted and exacerbated by it.

The report suggests that certain resets to curbside recycling programs can result in cost savings that will more than offset the cost increases resulting from the policy. These include switching collection of recyclables from weekly to biweekly and switching glass recycling from curbside collection to drop-off center recycling.

“We expect municipal officials and other key recycling stakeholders will review the important data, conclusions and recommendations from this ARF report and incorporate them into their recycling programs,” says David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO. “Local governments have several options that are preferable to dropping curbside recycling programs.”

The full report, “Resetting Curbside Recycling Programs in the Wake of China,” is currently available only to SWANA ARF subscribers. SWANA members receive free access to ARF industry reports one year after publication.