Chinese Tariffs, Contamination Problem Impacting U.S. Recycling Exports

Last year, West Fargo had nearly 3,700 tons of recycling

WEST FARGO, N.D. — Every time West Fargo Waste Management picks up the recycling from your curb, it’s taken to a the West Fargo Transfer Station where it’s packed into semi’s headed for Minneapolis.

Once there, the recyclables are sorted at a Material Reclamation Facility before it is then shipped out to countries like China.

“China by 2020 is going to stop importing all recyclables and they are the world’s largest market,” said Thomas Clark, West Fargo Sanitation manager.

Last year, the U.S. exported $5.6 billion worth of scrap to China. Experts say America has already had more difficulties in sending its recycling to China because of contamination issues.

“That’s why it becomes such a problem. Let’s say you’re quantity is 10. Six of it will be contaminated. Well that ruins everything,” Clark said.

The second problem is the tariffs the Chinese put on different materials such as cardboard and recovered fibers.

“The rest of the world, they’re looking for different markets for this recycling. With China being the largest, if that player goes away, then you have a huge void in who’s going to take all this recycling,” Clark said.

Countries like the U.S. export their recycling especially to China because they have a system to split it into raw material that can be reused. While the United States does have that type of system as well, experts say it doesn’t compare to China’s.

That means you could start to see a trickle effect in our country.

“If it should back up, (West Fargo is) in a very good spot right now compared to a lot of towns across the country, you’ll start to see stricter recycling rules which means we have to separate even more than we had to,” Clark said.

Clark says there’s a good chance there’d also be more product in the landfill and higher recycling fees everywhere in the states and less services.

“Experts say part of the solution could be knowing what you can’t and can recycle,” Clark said.

Even if other markets start to open up, avoiding contamination is key.

“At some point, they’re going to look at it and say ‘we can’t take all that contaminated stuff either,” Clark said.

The United States is working with China to try to delay the stop of recyclable exports into the country.

For a full list of what you can and can’t recycle, click here.

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