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China's New Recycling Policies Expected To Have Little Impact In Ohio

Sam Hendren

China is enforcing a new policy that bans imports of 24 types of solid waste, including recyclable materials. While that has many in the United States worried, the local recycling industry says these new rules should not hurt Central Ohio. 

As of January 1, China has banned "foreign waste," including various plastics and unsorted mixed papers. The country is implementing stricter standards for acceptable contamination levels.

China notified the World Trade Organization about the ban in July. Currently, the country takes in 55 percent of the world's scrap paper and is a global destination for other recyclables.

Kyle O'Keefe, of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, says local processors don't think they will be affected.

"A lot of our local processors here, a lot of the material that we capture and use locally in Central Ohio, goes to a lot of local processors and manufacturers even," O'Keefe says. "So a lot of this material is even staying within our state or surrounding states and being turned back into new products."

According to O'Keefe, states along the coasts will be most impacted by China's new rules.

"For us in the Midwest, we’re a little more insulated from this issue than the coasts are," he says. "Largely we have more regional homes where these materials might be going to."

Rumpke Waste & Recycling is based in Cincinnati and operates recycling services in Columbus. Director of Recycling Steve Sargent agrees with O'Keefe that being in the Midwest is an advantage. 

"We’re fortunate. Only about 20 percent of the total processed recyclables that Rumpke picks up in our service area are actually exported. And that number is reversing itself. We’re seeing more opportunities domestically to sell our recyclables to," Sargent says. "Once we process it, there is so much material on the east and west coast that’s backing up, and we’ve really heard some horror stories that some of this material may end up having to go to a landfill. We’re not faced with that."

Sargent hopes the new regulations will provide the long-term benefit of spurring more domestic markets to process recycled materials in the U.S.

"Where we’ve really been impacted has been on the price. It’s very interesting what’s happened just in 2017," Sargent says. "For example mixed paper, which is one of the biggest commodities that we produce on a day-in day-out basis in a recycling plant, we’ve lost over 60 percent of the value of that material since March. So in about 10 months."