What, us worry?

While many San Juan, Lopez and Orcas recycling groups and businesses are scrambling for solutions to China banning a significant portion of recyclables exported from the United States, Shaw Islanders’ mixed recyclables will continue to be picked up by San Juan Sanitation. 

In July, China notified the World Trade Organization that it intended to dramatically reduce certain recyclables from the United States by the end of the year, in part because much of the recyclables were contaminated, sometimes with food, used diapers and other unacceptable items. 

According to the Solid Waste Association of North America, China is the largest export market for recyclables generated in America. They import about 13 million tons of paper and 776,000 tons of plastic from the United States annually. By the end of the year, it will no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste, as part of a government campaign against “foreign garbage”.

San Juan Sanitation’s Jay Sack explained:

“We dump our stuff at the recycling center in Woodinville. They sort it out. Of all the recycling in the U.S., China bought only 30 percent. That’s it. What happened is that China didn’t want our ‘garbage’ recycling. They only wanted the primo commodities such as cardboard, some type of glass, and aluminum. Everything else is just not worth much, so they banned the crappy stuff. We’ve known this was coming for seven or eight months but it did freak people out,” Sack said.

“We dump our recyclables with Waste Management, a huge company, a pioneer in recycling. Recyclables have to be a commodity. You have to be able to sell it. I don’t see any problems for us continuing what we’ve been doing (on Shaw). Doing the right thing costs money. If anything, we might have to raise our prices a little if Waste Management is forced to find different outlets, but we’re going to continue with what we’re doing.”

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries estimates that by weight, 70 percent of the banned recycling material sent to China is mixed paper.

  • According to Waste Management Northwest website:

[] Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy needed to produce new aluminum from raw materials. The energy saved from recycling one ton of aluminum is equal to the amount of electricity the average home uses over 10 years (Keep America Beautiful). 

[] Recycling one glass container saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for 4 hours (Environmental Protection Agency). 

[] Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, three cubic yards of landfill space, two barrels of oil, and 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity — enough energy to power the average American home for five months (EPA). 

[] Recycling one ton of plastic milk jugs saves enough energy to light a home for a year; incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates one job; landfilling 10,000 tons of waste creates six jobs; recycling 10,000 tons of waste creates 36 jobs (EPA).

— Contributed by Sharon Wootton