The Solid Waste Association of North America's (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation (ARF) has released a new report that 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.
China’s National Sword policy banned the import of several recyclable materials from all countries – including mixed paper and mixed plastics – on Jan. 1, 2018, and reduced the acceptable level of contamination in scrap and recyclable materials not banned to 0.5 percent, effective March 1, 2018. China also imposed tariffs on many recyclables specifically from the U.S. - including cardboard, other recovered fiber, metals, and plastics - in August 2018.
National Sword has contributed substantially to a 50 percent reduction in the revenues received from the sale of recyclables recovered through curbside recycling, the report found. 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’s Director of Applied Research.
The report, “Resetting Curbside Recycling Programs in the Wake of China,” presents several options that can be implemented to counter the impacts of China’s National Sword policy. Some findings from the report include:
About 65 million households in the U.S. are provided with curbside recycling services. Collectively, these programs divert about nine million tons of recyclables from disposal each year.
The China National Sword Policy has resulted in about a 50 percent reduction in the revenues received from the sale of recyclables recovered through curbside recycling. This represents a reduction of over $400 million per year.
The major recycling commodities that have been impacted by the China National Sword Policy have been mixed paper, mixed plastics and corrugated containers.
An analysis of the collection and processing costs and current revenues associated with curbside recycling programs indicates that these programs cost homeowners about $6.85 per household per month when recyclables are collected on a weekly basis. The impact of the China National Sword policy on MRF recycling revenues and processing costs is estimated to account for $0.75 per household per month, or about 11 percent of this cost.
Certain resets to curbside recycling programs can result in cost savings that will more than offset the cost increases resulting from the China National Sword policy. These include the switching of recyclables collection from a weekly to a bi-weekly basis and the switching of glass recycling from curbside collection to drop-off center recycling.
Contamination/residue levels at MRFs typically range between 15 percent and 25 percent and are costing curbside recycling programs over $1 billion per year on a national basis when additional collection and processing costs associated with contamination are considered. While contamination has not been caused by the China National Sword Policy, it has been highlighted and exacerbated by it, SWANA says.
“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. Local governments have several options that are preferable to dropping curbside recycling programs,” says David Biderman, SWANA’s executive director and CEO. Biderman adds that this fall will be an active one on the recycling policy front, with the November release of EPA’s long-awaited national recycling framework and congressional activity on bills that would support recycling programs.
The full report, “Resetting Curbside Recycling Programs in the Wake of China,” is currently only available to SWANA ARF subscribers. SWANA members receive free access to ARF industry reports one year after publication.