Are you Paying Recycling Contamination Fees?

It’s no secret that the waste services landscape has changed drastically in the last several years. In 2017, China announced that it would no longer accept recycling waste from countries including the United States. up to that point, China had been accepting plastics, cardboard and other materials from the US, Japan and several EU member states. Since China stopped accepting these materials. costs of recycling have gone through the roof for all types of producers of waste.

A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that just 2 years ago, the city of Philadelphia was paying $5 per ton to remove recycling waste. Last year, that dollar figure rose to $78 and this year it expects to continue that upward trend to $105 a ton. This is especially jarring considering that the city was being paid $67 per ton for the same material as recently as 2012!

This situation is not going to correct itself. Just this week, it was announced that Malaysia, a country that began receiving much of the world’s recycling waste 3 years ago when China changed course, was returning approximately 4120 tons of recycling waste to their countries of origin including the US, France, Canada and Japan. So, why is this happening?

The short answer is that single-stream recycling has not worked out in the way we all hoped it would several decades ago. For recycling to work, materials must be clean. This means no cheese and grease on pizza boxes. It means glass pickle jars cannot still have the metal cap screwed on, let alone pickles and pickle juice still inside.

Unfortunately, the realities at your local recycling center indicate an untenable situation. Many folks are still bagging recycling waste in trash bags and shopping bags which do quite a number at getting themselves tangled up in sorting machines. This results in bags upon bags of “recycling” waste being sent to landfill. Much of the remaining waste is simply sitting in centers because there are no buyers.

What does this mean for you and your facility? First of all, if your recycling waste is contaminated, you may well be paying contamination fees to your hauler. Contaminated recycling waste would include non-recycleable items or “dirty” recycling waste.

For generators looking to avoid fees and lower their costs as much as possible, we would urge folks to re-adopt the old way of segregating recycling waste. That’s right. Cardboard and paper, or fiber as we refer to it, needs to go in its own stream, and metal, glass and plastics should be sorted separately, too. All material must be clean and caps and tops must be removed from bottles and jars. The truth of the matter is that recycling worked pretty darn well back in the late 80s before we outsmarted ourselves.

The challenges in the waste industry are evolving and so, too are the solutions. And while there is no silver bullet for lowering waste costs, there are certainly steps that can be taken by any facility towards smarter waste streaming. Call our offices today to schedule a waste audit so we can begin saving your organization money in 2020!