In July 2017, China, the largest international importer of recyclables from the United States, notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it would impose a ban on the import of 24 categories of solid waste, including plastic, mixed paper and textiles, as of the start of 2018. March 1, 2018, the Chinese government implemented stricter thresholds for allowable contaminants in imported recyclables.
Despite these changes, Teresa Sweeney, chair of the Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) does not think this means recycling as we know it is dead.
“The VRA sees this as a reality check for product manufacturers to improve their packaging, for the recycling industry to improve their sorting technology, for everyone who works with the public to improve recycling information and for consumers to reduce their waste and recycle responsibly,” she says.
“Recycling is not going away. Space in our landfills is limited and we must continue to reduce the amount of solid waste that is sent there,” Sweeney continues. “The average remaining capacity for landfills in Virginia is only 23 years, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.”
She adds that recycling is “a smarter option to waste disposal, particularly when coupled with waste reduction.
“The main problem with recycling is contamination,” Sweeney says. “We must work harder to provide clear direction and make recycling the right thing easier for everyone. Many ‘wishful recyclers’ put items into recycling containers for collection that really should be donated, recycled another way or thrown in the trash.”
She says the VRA is advising Virginia residents to “keep it simple.” Sweeney adds, “Generally, No. 1 and No. 2 plastic bottles, jugs and food containers, along with tin and aluminum cans and cardboard, can be placed in recycling containers. However, check with your local jurisdiction for guidelines on what can be recycled where in your community.”
She also advises emptying containers and keeping paper products dry.
The VRA says, according to figures from the Institute of Scrap and Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, Virginia’s recycling industry generates approximately $2 billion in revenue and employs more than 8,500 workers. These businesses contribute to the local economy by creating and supporting jobs and services. Recycling creates up to seven times more jobs per ton than landfilling. Recycling also preserves landfill space and natural resources.
“One thing we all have to remember is that recycling is an industry,” Sweeney says. “The current market conditions will force a change or possibly closure of some of these businesses, but there is something Virginians can do. By recycling more responsibly, you contribute to the preservation of our environment, support local industry and preserve landfill space for future generations.”