Recycling on campuses affected by China’s plastics ban

Recycling on campuses affected by China’s plastics ban

By:  | Issue: April/May, 2019 
April 8, 2019

China’s recent decision to drastically limit the amount and types of recyclable plastics it accepts from other countries has forced colleges to find new ways to handle trash removal. The new policy is projected to create 111 million metric tons of“unacceptable” plastic waste by 2030, a University of Georgia study found.

Right now, very few alternate destinations exist for that refuse. Municipalities areRecycling plastic china struggling to find new outlets to accept waste, and many have cancelled recycling programs rather than pay extra.

Given most institutions’ commitment to sustainability, ceasing recycling programs altogether seems unlikely. But some colleges have already seen price increases, says E. Lander Medlin, executive vice president of APPA, the higher ed facilities organization. “This is going to be a crummy nightmare for sustainability,” says Medlin.

Quickly finding any outlets for the amount of recyclables generated will be a challenge.

Long-term recycling solutions

Colleges were already managing increased amounts of recyclable waste over recent years, so removing a major disposal option only exacerbates the situation. “Now that the spigot of China is turned off, campus leaders need to educate themselves about other possibilities,” Medlin says. She advises seeking partners who create products from recyclable materials.

Some campuses have banned single-use plastics. Others have adopted multistream recycling to keep waste “clean.” For example, the University of Minnesota divides recyclables into bins for plastic, glass, paper, etc., and then staffers further sort them by hand. This protects the integrity and value of materials, which makes the recyclables desirable to collection services.

Reducing the amount of plastic coming on to campus also helps. Many campuses have increased the number of water stations for bottle refills. A next step could be removing all plastic water bottles in dining halls and campus retail stores,
says Medlin. 
Raising prices on certain products as a deterrent is another option.

Ultimately, campus leaders should be rethinking their purchasing, supply and delivery chains. “People need to recognize that this is a real issue right now, and if they’re not aware of it, they need to be because it’s happening,” says Medlin.

Rocky Mountain recycling

The University of Colorado Boulder’s recycling program was launched in 1976. Now, the institution has a second on-campus facility, which is staffed by students who process materials.

CU Boulder employs “dual stream” collection. All containers—plastics, glass, cans, cartons—get collected together, while all white paper is collected separately. Each building’s loading dock features a trash dumpster, a cardboard dumpster, a compost dumpster and toters for paper and containers.

By separating materials—especially white paper—the institution is able to preserve the value of recyclable commodities and find good markets for resale, says Ed von Bleichert, program manager, sustainability and resiliency.  

“If you can save high-quality, archival and acid-free white ledger paper that still has virgin content in it—that’s a valuable commodity that can be reused six to eight times before fibers shrink,” says von Bleichert.

The CU Boulder student body recently passed a plastics ban, but recycling plastics is always a challenge because of low value and recovery rates, says von Bleichert.

One change the institution has made is to exchange much of its food service plastics (flatware, plates and cups) for compostable, cellulose-based plastics. “That allows us to eliminate a lot of what we couldn’t recycle, but now we can collect as compostable with organic materials, which has its own challenges,” says von Bleichert. Compostable plastics cannot be put in a landfill, for example.

CU Boulder has also focused on sustainable procurement with contract and vendor reform. For example, vendors may not bring in materials that the institution cannot recycle. The institution also has an active outreach and education program that encourages reuse. No plastic foam coffee cups are allowed on campus, and water bottle refilling stations are being installed across campus.

“Maybe this is just a wake-up call for everyone,” says von Bleichert. “I hope there will be a positive side to this in the long term in that we’ll just develop more highly recyclable plastics.


Original article link –

Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It?

The U.S. used to ship about 7 million tons of plastic trash to China a year, where much of it was recycled into raw materials. Then came the Chinese crackdown of 2018. Olivia Sun/NPR

The U.S. used to ship about 7 million tons of plastic trash to China a year, where much 
of it was recycled into raw materials. Then came the Chinese crackdown of 2018.
Olivia Sun/NPR

Heard on All Things Considered




Plastic garbage from Trader Joe’s and an AARP card are peeking out of hillocks of plastic trash piling up in Indonesia. It’s a sign of a new global quandary: What should wealthy countries do with their plastic waste now that China no longer is buying it? For years, America sold millions of tons of used yogurt cups, juice containers, shampoo bottles and other kinds of plastic trash to China to be recycled into new products. And it wasn’t just the U.S. Some 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste went to China – about 7 million tons a year. Numerous Chinese millionaires were minted as recycling businesses started and blossomed. Sure, they paid for the world’s plastic and paper trash, but they made far more money from processing it and selling the resulting raw materials.

About ‘The Plastic Tide’

NPR is exploring one of the most important environmental issues of our time: plastic waste. Click here to read more about the topic. But last year the Chinese government dropped a bombshell on the world recycling business: It cut back almost all imports of trash. And now a lot of that plastic gets shipped to other countries that don’t have the capacity to recycle it or dispose of it safely. To understand the current situation, we have to go back in time a couple of decades.

A billionaire is born

In 1995, Zhang Yin started a paper recycling company in China called Nine Dragons. She would become China’s first female billionaire. China wanted scrap paper and plastic to recycle into more products, and Yin seized the market.

Martin Bourque runs one of the oldest recycling operations in the U.S. as part of theEcology Center in Berkeley, Calif. “There were brokers going around the globe buying up every scrap of plastic they could find and paying top dollar for it,” he says. And there was this brilliant tactic to increase profits: West Coast ports in the U.S. were full of empty Chinese shipping containers that had come to deliver goods to American consumers. “So it made a lot of sense to send [waste] out though the port in an empty ship that was going back anyway,” Bourque says.

For American recyclers, it was too good a deal to pass up. Many types of plastic — bags, cups, plastic wrap, thin film — gum up sorting machines at materials recovery centers in the U.S. and is of almost no value to recyclers.


A New Weapon In The War Against Plastic Waste

Waste expert Joe Dunlop at the Athens-Clarke County materials recovery facility near Athens, Ga., explained the problem. Conveyor belts deliver tons of trash every hour, with magnets diverting metal and paper going into bins for recycling. Some plastic is binned up, too, if it’s recyclable — bottles, for example. But the rest, like a box covered in film plastic — thin flexible sheets of plastic — is not easy to recycle.

He pulls up a 2-foot-square piece of cardboard out of a 10-foot-pile of trash. “A cardboard box wrapped in our No. 1 contaminate, film plastic,” he says. “That’s just bad. What is so awful about a cardboard box that they had to go and do this to it?” The cardboard/plastic combo originally held beverages, he says, “but have you ever had to unpackage containers? It’s a pain in the butt.” Dunlop says a lot of that plastic is useless when it comes to recycling in the United States. It mostly ended up in landfills until China came along.

China had plenty of capacity to handle plastics and lots of cheap laborers to sort the recyclable materials from the nonrecyclable. By 2016, the U.S. was exporting almost 700,000 tons a year to China alone. Overall, China imported 7 million tons from around the world. About five years ago, the Chinese government started to worry about all this trash coming in. A lot of the plastic was contaminated with stuff that made it difficult and expensive to recycle – paper, food waste, plastic wrap (which is not recyclable). And some of the plastic was hard to recycle and thus not profitable to import.

What’s more, a lot of plastic sneaked in illegally, without permits. These fly-by-night recyclers dumped stuff they couldn’t recycle, causing pollution on land and in waterways.

In fact, Bourque actually tracked some of the plastic scrap from his operation in Berkeley. In 2016, he buried a GPS transponder in one of his bales of paper and plastic waste from the Ecology Center. Waste brokers bought it. He followed the transponder’s electronic signals to a town in China. Bourque then contacted local residents to document what happened to it. They reported to Bourque what they saw.

“And what we found confirms some of our worst nightmares: dumping in the local canyon of materials they couldn’t recycle, plastic in the farmland incorporated into the soil of the cornfields nearby,” he says.

China says no

So the Chinese government cracked down. In 2017, the government started to cut way back on plastic trash imports. Then the big bombshell: In January 2018, it banned almost all imports. Last year, China took in less than 1 percent of its 2016 total. That means a huge amount of plastic is looking for a place to go. Especially, says Bourque, in the Western U.S., where communities depended heavily on the Chinese trade. “A lot of it is being stockpiled,” he says. “You know, people who have warehouse space.” Many communities — like Eugene, Ore. — temporarily stopped collecting things like yogurt containers and shampoo bottles that used to go to China. Keefe Harrison runs a nonprofit called the Recycling Partnership that works to improve recycling rates. She says more plastic in the U.S. is now ending up in landfills or getting incinerated, which creates pollution. And she says the confusion is discouraging to consumers. “It’s very hard to turn recycling on and off,” she says. “You can’t tell your citizens ‘Today we’re not recycling any more, but next week we’ll start again.’ “

Harrison says if recyclers in the U.S. are going to pick up the slack, they need help. For one thing, they need more good, valuable plastic — bottles and tubs like the ones detergent comes in, for example, that are easier to recycle into raw plastic they can resell in the U.S. “The truth is that only half of Americans can recycle at home as easily as throwing something away,” she says. “So that’s step one that we have to fix.”

New destinations

Meanwhile, shipments of plastic waste to other Southeast Asian countries have skyrocketed. Exports from the U.S. to Thailand jumped almost 7,000 percent in one year. Malaysia’s went up several hundred percent. Those numbers dropped in 2018 after those countries cut back on imports. Stiv Wilson is an environmental activist and documentary filmmaker who works with a project on waste called The Story of Stuff. He has also been working with an environmental group called Ecoton in Indonesia, another big importing country. Wilson visited a town near a recycling plant in the city of Surabaya. The plant takes paper bales mixed with plastic.

“That plastic gets separated by the paper factory,” he says. “It gets dumped in the neighboring community, and then the only way to get rid of it is to openly burn it. It is also used as fuel for boiling water to make tofu in small tofu factories all around. … Air, water and land (are) all affected by this.”

And he’s the one who has documented uniquely American items that indicate where a lot of the trash comes from — “Like AARP cards with names on them. So obviously you know where that’s come from.”


Your Questions About Plastic Waste, Answered

These new dumping destinations aren’t likely to last. Already, Vietnam and Malaysia are cutting back imports of scrap plastic because they are overwhelmed. They can’t handle the huge diversion of plastic to their countries since China shut out imports.

Recycling experts say it’s a time of reckoning for their industry and that wealthy countries need to stop exporting to countries that can’t handle it.






15th Annual Synthetic Turf Council Membership Meeting

15th Annual Synthetic Turf Council Membership Meeting

Is the (Artificial) Grass Always Greener?

M-PASS’ Lorraine White is just back from Cleveland where she participated in the 15th annual Synthetic Turf Council (STC) Membership Meeting. The STC is the synthetic turf industry’s trade association, providing its members a global forum to promote, develop, grow and advocate for synthetic turf (a/k/a artificial grass).

Synthetic turf can be found everywhere from sports fields and playgrounds, to pet kennels, to landscape design. The industry is experiencing rapid growth as turf’s design has evolved to better simulate the experience of practicing and playing on natural grass.


M-PASS and Synthetic Turf?

“M-PASS joined the association to support our clients in this industry,” White said. “And while there are some clear environmental benefits to using synthetic turf, there are very limited recycling options for post-industrial turf because of the mixture of material used in the manufacturing process.” As is often the case, unfortunately, the available options are cost prohibitive. So, once again, we are looking at a product – this time it’s turf scraps – likely to end up in our landfills.

The synthetic turf industry has recognized this challenge and has made finding a cost-effective and efficient solution a priority.  Lorraine represented M-PASS Cleveland to:

  • engage with the other STC members and ensure that M-PASS has all the current information on new possible solutions to synthetic turf recycling; and
  • show M-PASS’s commitment to this issue as well as the commitment to work with our clients and the synthetic turf industry to help develop solutions and keep the turf scraps out of landfills.

GRC 27th Annual Conference – 2018

The Georgia Recycling Coalition

"Sorting It All Out"

In Mid-September, VP and General Manager Chris Witherspoon represented M-PASS at the 27th annual conference of the Georgia Recycling Coalition (GRC). The GRC has a mission to promote material reduction and enhance recycling programs throughout the state by coordinating recycling activities.  Spearheading communication between Georgians interested in recycling – recycling professionals, individuals, governments and corporations.

This year’s theme and agenda “Sorting It All Out” covered many of the issues impacting recycling in Georgia.  Bruce Karas, VP of Environmental & Sustainability for Coca-Cola North America, kicked off the conference with a presentation on Coke’s World Without Waste Initiative Program designed to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one sold by 2030.

Conference participants also heard about other local progress as well as some of the specific “nitty gritty” of our business, including education, sorting and contamination.  The panel selection ranged from a group of individuals who shared about a local success story out of Hall County addressing specific recycling markets like glass, plastics, etc. sharing how Hall County has created a solid business solution for industry waste programs and their efforts continue to expand. Their twenty-year plan shows an anticipated profit starting as early as next year.

VP and General Manager Chris Witherspoon said it perfectly, “The GRC is such an important resource for all of Georgia, but especially for those of us working in waste diversion industries. They keep us in touch, informed and on target.  These conferences are valuable to M-PASS not only ensure that we as a company stay current on all concerns or issues, but we are able to anticipate potential changes all while keeping in touch with colleagues from around the state.“


Blue Sky 2018 – China Continues to Impact the World

Blue Sky 2018 - China Continues to Impact the World

In August, we talked about China’s changing import regulations on recyclable materials. That was just the beginning of a major adjustment in how the world has to deal with this issue in the future. Chinese authorities, increasingly concerned over the growing amount of contaminated recyclable materials entering their country, launched aggressive enforcement of existing regulations on inspections in 2013.
(“China’s ‘Green Fence’ is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market,” M-PASS, August 18, 2017).

Things continue to evolve. “Blue Sky 2018,” is the latest enforcement campaign announced by China’s General Administration of Customs. (Just keeping it interesting – the name “Blue Sky 2018” follows “The Green Fence” and “The National Sword,” changing as the intensity of the effort grows).


This newest action, running from March through December of this year, means full enforcement of earlier measures to ban 24 types of waste, including plastic and mixed papers. It goes further, setting a much higher standard for contamination levels. In addition, Chinese authorities are cracking down on false import documents. According to authorities, smugglers have been circumventing import regulations by illegally using another company’s import license. By November of 2017, these crackdowns had resulted in the arrest of “… 39 suspects and the seizure of 33,000 tonnes of plastic and mineral waste.” (SOURCE: South China Morning Post)

These changes have left Western countries scrambling to deal with a buildup of plastic and paper garbage while looking for new markets. Interestingly, the regulations are also having effects in Asia, as port cities like Hong Kong are seeing tons of rubbish pile up.

Hong Kong, partially autonomous because of the “one country, two systems” legal framework established when the city reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, functions as China’s import-export hub. Virtually all recycling imports from the West pass through its already overstretched port complex, the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals. (SOURCE: “China’s recycling import crackdown sparks Hong Kong pile-ups,” Engineering & Technology, Nov., 2017).

Hong Kong also produces its own large amounts of cardboard and paper, much of which is normally sent across the border to the mainland for recycling. Officials there fear that the area is far too small and densely populated to be able to properly process even all of its own recyclable waste. And since China refuses to take it, the pileups will leave them surrounded by garbage.

As Waste Dive 360’s Cole Rosengren wrote in a recent article:

“In the eight months since China announced import restrictions, the industry’s talking points
have essentially followed the five stages of grief. Most people now appear to be entering the
acceptance phase. Containers are getting rejected, import licenses are down and the new 0.5%
contamination standards are in effect as of this month. Figuring out what went wrong and
what comes next is now the top priority.”

There are no great short-term answers. Quick fixes include sending more recyclable materials to landfills, easing municipality recycling requirements, increasing taxes, and possible higher costs for haulers. Some recyclers are looking to export to other countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, but even together these places can’t fill the void left by China. None of these are long-term solutions.

“This is not a little disruption,” says Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute,
a research organization based in Southern California. “This is a big disruption to a bigger industry
than most people would think it is, because it’s sort of an invisible process. You put your stuf
out at the curb, and it goes away — nobody thinks about it as being a multi-billion industry in this country.”

(“Mountains of US recycling pile up as China restricts imports,” PRI, January 2018)

There is some good news. Challenges often provide the opportunity to increase knowledge, growth and effect change. Increasing consumer awareness, even in our daily activities, is an initial step.

  • The milkman is making a return, partly due to a renewed interest in using glass bottles instead of plastic.
  • The EU announced plans to make all plastic packaging across Europe recyclable or reusable by 2030.
  • British Prime Minister Teresa May called for more stringent rules on the use of plastics, particularly in supermarkets.
  • Recently, the Amsterdam branch of the Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza opened the world’s first plastic-free aisle, offering more than 700 products with no plastic wrapping. There are plans for a national roll out.
  • And to come full circle, Roy Tech Environ (a Chinese-owned company) is opening a plastics-recycling facility in Grant, Alabama. With regulations tightening, increasing the difficulty to ship unprocessed plastic scrap into China, the company decided to open a processing plant in the U.S. to ensure that its operations in Asia have enough material to meet their needs. (SOURCES: Recycling Today; WHNT News)

Hopefully, by now you are thinking: So what can I do?

Here are three pretty simple things that we can all do right now:

  • Rob Schmitz/NPR

    Decline plastic straws offered by servers at restaurants. There is a growing anti-straw activist movement amid talk of edible straws and return of the paper straw. The #stopsucking movement is not new, but it got a boost recently from Queen Elizabeth. She “stopped sucking,” according to one roguish headline, after seeing part of a film series presented by her friend David Attenborough. Greatly impacted by the scenes of plastic bottles and bags clogging oceans and killing marine life, she banned plastic straws and plastic materials from the royal estates.

  • Stop “wishful recycling” (We probably all practice this every once in a while when we just throw it in the bin, not 100% sure it can be recycled). I find myself thinking twice now when I approach my recycling container.
  • Make sure you take your own bags to the supermarket.

“Blue Sky 2018” has had a large effect on economies and jobs around the world as prices for recyclable materials have decreased with demand. It even affects the income of Hong Kong’s scrap and garbage pickers (often referred to as “cardboard grannies”), who make a living going shop to shop collecting scrap materials to recyclers.

But while we may be facing short-term economic losses, in the long-run, we can increase – and develop new – and sustainable practices.

If you want to know more ….

More reading on China and the continuing outcome of their actions:
There is a wealth of information and reporting on the China policies and their effects on the world and there are new stories every few days. We will keep you updated on any significant changes or responses. In in the meantime — If you want to read more about it …

Waste Reduction and Diversion in the South. How We Doin’?

Waste Reduction and Diversion in the South

How We Doin’?

Well, not really very well, according to a March 2015 study reported by Waste360 which ranked “The 10 Best and Worst States for Waste Diversion, Reduction.” No states in the South were among the best, but you will find five Southern states listed among the worst.

So, why is the South falling short in our waste diversion and reduction efforts compared to other parts of the country? There’s one answer and it’s both simple and complicated – it’s about cost. But cost considered only in financial terms, not taking into account costs to the environment and our quality of life.

Though ever-growing numbers of people and businesses are participating in recycling programs in their communities, we still produce enormous amounts of waste. In most cases, a landfill is the easiest answer, and many of us tend to just be content with burying the problem in a landfill. If we can’t see it, we can just forget about it.

We’ve all heard the downsides of landfills: among them, soil and ground water pollution and higher transportation and energy costs (in many cases, waste has to travel a long way to find its landfill home). And P.S., after a landfill is closed, it can take thousands of years for many of the contents – such as Styrofoam – to decompose.

Even with increased interest in recycling, landfills remain the most common and economical waste management solution in many parts of the country. And since the South is a large region with lots of open land, the tipping fees (cost of waste received at landfills) have remained relatively low in the Southern states.

 “Because of this abundance of landfills and land space in certain states, it’s sometimes much
cheaper to dispose of waste rather than recycling. States with less land have greater
difficulty getting rid of their waste, which is why their prices are higher.”

–John Witherspoon, President,
Municipal Waste Consultants of Georgia

These tipping fees vary widely from region to region and even from state to state. For example, according to the Waste Business Journal, in 2017 tipping fees in the Southeast averaged $38 per ton. In the same year, the Northeast averaged $79.3 per ton – more than double the average fee charged in the Southern states.

In coming years, however, we may not be able to blame price differences for our continued landfill use. If you google “increasing landfill fees,” you’ll find news about rising fees from Paso Robles, California to Walker County, Georgia to New Zealand.

According to Waste Dive, the largest landfill fee increases in the United States most recently occurred in the Midwest (8.9%) and the Southeast (6.6%), partly due to the continued popularity of these regions as export destinations for other states. (Isn’t “export” a nice way of saying “we’re sending you our trash”?)

Many states with less land area have found exporting the most effective way to deal with their waste.  In some cases, larger states are also increasing export volumes as their landfill fees

increase or as they look to reduce the number of their landfills. A number of Southern states are receiving these “imports,” among them Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Southern states are even exporting to each other. As an example, trash collected from cities and towns in Florida that border Georgia and Alabama will often be dumped outside the state of origin in order to receive the lower gate rates in those states.

And while we’ve primarily been talking about land mass, it’s important to remember that it’s not only the size of the area that’s an issue. For example, a large state like California today may appear to have lots of land but their greater population density can increase pressure to preserve land and environmental quality.

As you might imagine, transporting huge truckloads of garbage from one region of the country to another adds to the tipping fees – fuel, equipment, and personnel. Some of you may remember the infamous “garbage barge,” which left New York loaded with trash in March of 1987. The waste traveled down the East Coast and around Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. After being banned from six states and two foreign nations (Mexico and Belize), and riding around for almost two months, the waste returned to New York, and was eventually disposed of after a series of inter-borough debates.

No matter how much land we have now or how we choose to use it, we need to remember that open land is a finite resource. And as the economic justification for landfill use becomes less persuasive in the future, we must continue to look at better ways to deal with our waste.  There are things we can do in the meantime, including buying more products made from recycled material, changing our recycling and waste disposal habits, including reducing contamination in our residential recycling by separately recycling glass and ensuring only materials that are 100% recyclable are in the bins. We can also better educating individuals and businesses on the benefits – both economic and environmental – of recycling.

In 2006, M-PASS Environmental developed their Multi-Step Cost Reduction Analysis Process, which, according to President and Founder Lorraine White, “enables us to provide organizations and municipalities with significant cost savings in their waste management and recycling programs. A priority of our work with clients is to enhance sustainable initiatives, including looking for all the possible ways to reduce landfill tonnage and help our clients increase their recycling efforts.”

And finally, by not emphasizing recycling as an alternative to landfills, we are ignoring a huge economic market. According to the Southeast Recycling Development Council (SERDC), “Southeastern manufacturers rely on recycled glass, plastic, metal, and paper to make new consumer goods.” You can get a quick idea of the numbers of these manufacturing sites from SERDC’s interactive map, which highlights key manufacturers using recycled materials to make their products.

In Georgia, for example, we have a recycling market infrastructure which includes the state’s carpet industry which uses recycled plastics, and the pulp and paper mills that use recycled fiber in their production. Our landfills probably contain millions of dollars’ worth of recyclable materials. Materials that could turn into a financial benefit for both the entity dumping the waste as well as the company waiting to turn those materials back into useful products.

Let’s take a longer look at the economics of recycling and take better care of our valuable land resources – both in the South as well as the rest of the United States.

It …
Creates jobs
Saves energy
Conserves natural resources
Contributes to water conservation
Saves landfill space