Plastics Recycling Update

Green Fence divides recycling industry

The plastics recycling industry is grappling with what to do about China’s Green Fence, with some arguing it’s a disaster and others saying it’s the best thing to happen to domestic plastics recycling in years.

Last February, China announced a 10-month enforcement campaign relating to the import of waste and recycling materials into the country. The regulations, which passed in 2009, mandate that incoming bales of material must have contamination levels of less than 1.5 percent. The enforcement of the tougher standards has hit mixed plastic bales and Nos. 3-7 bales especially hard, with containers either piling up at Chinese ports or being shipped back to the U.S. at a shipping cost to Los Angeles/Long Beach of approximately $2,100 per container. Affected mixed bales are ones where contaminants consist of unacceptable levels of metal, paper, organic material or other non-plastic materials. Plastic bales where the “contaminants” are simply other resin types are typically not targeted.

Those that have been calling for increased domestic recycling of plastics for years are embracing the move.

“This is great news for American processors,” says Scott Saunders, general manager for KW Plastics. “I don’t buy the argument that MRFs [materials recovery facilities] have nowhere to sell material. There are lots of ready recyclers here in the U.S.”

Many argue that since Chinese inspection officials have made exporting plastic material considerably more difficult, it will actually stimulate more recycling in the U.S. and make the domestic market more competitive with Chinese buyers. Some sources have told Plastics Recycling Update that the crackdown over the last few months has already stimulated increased activity in the domestic market.

But others are urging caution. Arguing that many MRFs have not invested in the technology necessary to produce bales with low enough contamination rates to be useful, other sources tell PRU that they fear a collapse in No. 3-7 collection and recycling, with much of the material potentially heading to landfill.

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