China kills market for recycled goods – headed for the landfill now

Jim Winterbottom of The Dalles Disposal at The Dalles City Council meeting on October 23

At the October 23rd meeting of The Dalles city council, Jim Winterbottom of The Dalles Disposal reported on the current recycling crisis. China had been the largest market in the world to reprocess recycled material, but now they are refusing to accept materials due to contamination.

He noted that recycled material that’s shipped from the U.S. takes six months from the time it’s packed until the time it arrives in China.
“The amount of material that’s contaminated, not only from incorrect materials being added to the mix but correct materials that aren’t clean, and it sits out in this cargo container for six months, you can imagine what it’s like when they open it up,” Winterbottom told councilors. “So they said, you’ve got to get your material down to 1.5 percent contamination. Historically, the West Coast, which is doing better than most, runs around 15 or 20 percent contamination. January first they want that contamination to be .3 percent. There is no way with the current sorting facilities in the Portland-Vancouver area that that would be obtained”

He also said The Dalles Disposal will continue to pick up recycling at the curb for free each week, but instead of sorting and sending the results to companies that sell to China, the recycled material will be deposited along with other garbage at the county landfill,  thanks to a permit issued that day by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Winterbottom told councilors that customers should keep doing what they’ve been doing. If they put recycled materials in with their garbage, that might require a larger container, which they would be charged for. He says the company will continue to pick up the curbside recycling during this period for free and by keeping the system the same, he won’t have to switch people back to it once China is again accepting material and prices have normalized.