Stricter regulations for importing recyclables to China has caught up to one of Puget Sound’s largest waste management companies.
Republic Services collects waste or recycling for Eastside communities that include Bellevue, Kenmore, Mercer Island, North Bend and Sammamish.
The city of Mercer Island has granted the company 180 days to find new avenues for recycling mixed paper and is allowing it to landfill existing buildup.
The city of Bellevue has also approved a request from the company to send mixed paper collected through April 20 to the landfill.
More than half of the 1,000 tons of mixed paper collected in Bellevue cannot be sent to China due to contamination.
This decision stems from regulations recently imposed by China, which implemented a 0.5 percent contamination limit on mixed paper. This has led to mixed paper accumulating at Republic Services’ collection facility and creating a potential public health hazard. Sammamish has also granted Republic Services a similar waiver.
Bellevue Utilities spokesperson Michael May said the city’s decision was a recognition that the Chinese recycling market had essentially been closed. As a condition of allowing the waste management service to landfill mixed paper, which includes items like magazines, letters and other paper products, Republic Services must seek out an alternative buyer for recycled goods.
Republic Services is also changing how it sorts recycled materials by slowing processing lines, adding employees and improving optical sorting equipment with the goal of hitting the 0.5 percent contamination mark. May said the new regulations have been effecting not only Bellevue, but the whole West Coast recycling industry.
Contamination comes in many forms, ranging from uncleaned spaghetti cans to water damage. If recycling material is rained on, it is considered contaminated as well.
May stressed the importance of properly recycling materials, namely cleaning, emptying and drying recyclables.
“Just recycle right, if in doubt throw it out,” he said. “Don’t just put anything in there and I think that’s a lot of it, people can do more harm in their recycling.”
China has historically been one of the largest importers of recycled material, but announced it would be severely restricting imports of recycled material last summer. This has sent the world’s recycling industry scrambling as it seeks out alternative ways to unload the materials.
Republic Services has found other markets for recyclables such as cardboard, tin, glass and aluminum, according to Bellevue’s website. Food scraps and yard debris are processed into compost and sold locally.
Residents should continue to place mixed paper into recycling bins but make sure to sort it.