Recyclers: If you’re not innovating, you’re dying

by Luke on April 12, 2013

On the heels of my previous post about the need for improved recycling and sorting technology comes more news about the major issues US recyclers are now facing with the increased regulations in China on “recycled” waste the country imports.

China has formed an “Operation Green Fence” with support from China’s new President to inspect every shipment of paper and plastic waste imported into the country.  They are rejecting shipments that have too much contamination, waste, or non-spec materials.

This is a major issue in the short term, but I believe it will benefit US recycling over the long term.  If US recyclers don’t innovate, they will become the walking dead and so will our country’s recycling rate.

In the short term, bales of mixed #3-7 rigid plastics are under more scrutiny in China since there is higher likelihood of contamination in those bales.  To my knowledge, there is currently no other robust market for US recyclers to sell #3-7 mixed bales, so the alternative is for recyclers to send them to the landfill.  Major bummer.

In the long run, a shift like this theoretically should improve the recycling infrastructure in the U.S.  If the Chinese market becomes a less viable market for reclaimed materials be to sold to, it should drive innovation in the U.S. by way of encouraging more recyclers to add sorting technology that helps sort #3-7 rigid plastics as well as other reclaimed materials.  Ultimately, that should make each of those reclaimed resin types more valuable and legitimate for purchasers of recycled materials.  However, that also hinges on needing a robust marketplace of recycled resin buyers who want to buy those types of materials.

What will drive more manufacturers and resin buyers of recycled materials is regulations and consumers who demand/require products made with recycled content.

So as a consumer, you now know your job… keep asking for products made from recycled materials.

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