NRC: China crisis is US crisis

National Recycling Coalition says China’s embargo of U.S. recycling imports provides a clear signal that diversion of waste into a recycling bin is not recycling.

In a press release dated May 15, 2018, the National Recycling Coalition states: “Recycled materials and trash should look very different from each other, but for years they have been converging in the U.S.” The organization goes on to say that U.S. mills have been complaining about the quality of the recyclables recovered at U.S. material recovery facilities (MRFs) for years, but it has taken China’s recent embargo of U.S. recycling imports to drive home the point that diversion of waste into a recycling bin is not recycling. 

The NRC goes on to state that MRFs can produce quality materials out of single-stream and dual-stream inputs, but not when contaminants account for 20-plus percent of their input material in some cases.  “The plants are not built to handle those specs, and slower, cleaner processing has not historically been rewarded with higher market prices,” the NRC writes. “Now fast, dirty recycling is being punished with no markets.”

According to the NRC, “A combination of ‘wishful recycling’ and insufficient enforcement of quality is proving very damaging to the industry – abysmal and volatile markets, a dirty product that is not a reliable ‘commodity,’ closed plants and programs that are hurting economically.”

The National Recycling Coalition says it has joined other major industry associations in a nationwide collaborative with the goal of developing strategies to resolve some of these fundamental industry and market issues.

In the meantime, the National Recycling Coalition says residential customers must be reminded that they should only recycle the items on their local recyclables list. “This is important for U.S. users of recycled materials, and the current China embargo makes this an opportune time for this reminder,” the organization states. 

The NRC concludes by stating: “We cannot continue to act and behave as if business as usual will offer a solution to today’s issues. We must fundamentally shift how we speak to the public, how we collect and process our recyclables and what our end markets accept and utilize to truly recycle.”

The nonprofit says it is working through collaboratives, its series of Market Development Workshops and Quarterly Market Calls "to take steps to turn recycling into a real industry with a quality product" but also stresses the need to “work together to meet the challenge.”

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