Over 40 years ago, recycling became a global phenomenon - numerous products including plastics, aluminum, cardboard and paper being re-purposed rather than seeing a final life in a landfill. Recognizing the monetary value of recyclables, the recycling industry became an economic driver in China with freighters crossing the Pacific Ocean carrying half of the planet’s scrap paper and plastics.

In July 2017, China announced that, as of January 2018, the country would no longer import 24 types of solid waste, including most used paper and plastic. China also instituted a 0.5% contamination standard in March of 2018 as a result of years of receiving contaminated recyclables, which at times included hazardous substances like lead and mercury. According to industry reports, China made a commitment to improving the environment in the country and as a result, restricted imports of “foreign garbage.” By 2021, China will phase out imports of all recyclables.

Just how big of an impact was this new policy? Industry experts valued the United States’ scrap export market at $5.6 billion in 2017. Prior to the ban, recyclables were the largest export from West Coast ports at 24 percent. In 2016, 28.5 million tons of paper were sent to China, of which 13 million tons are currently banned from export to that country. Other countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and India receive recycling imports, however, their industry is nowhere near as developed as China’s had been. This has resulted in a capacity issue for many countries. Not to fear, Hudson County - please continue to place your recyclables curbside on your scheduled pickup days.

The impact of this anti-pollution policy developed into an instant crisis in the United States as the result of tumbling recovered paper and scrapped plastic prices. Corrugated cardboard, which had always been a valuable commodity for recyclers, saw its value decrease by 36 percent. Local governments across the country, which depend on funding from the sale of recyclables to fund their programs, realized an almost immediate budget impact.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Well, that’s a good question. Recently, major corporations including Walmart and Coca-Cola have pledged to implement packaging standards which are completely reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Starbucks and McDonalds have teamed up to develop a completely compostable, recyclable hot-beverage cup which will be released within the next three years - a huge step considering that both companies distribute a combined 4% of the 600 billion cups distributed globally per year.

Locally, the Hudson County Improvement Authority has taken the initiative to keep residents informed on proper recycling procedures. Since the recycling crisis took center stage, recyclers are becoming increasingly stringent in accepting proper recycling loads. If loads are contaminated, they will not be accepted. Not only would this entire load end up in a landfill, rather than recycled, but it also has an affect on the County’s recycling rate which would reduce the amount of recycling funding from the State.

Commingled recycling containers should only contain the following:

  • Plastics #1 & #2
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Aluminum and tin cans

Before placing your recyclables into the container, please take a moment to rinse them out any food that may be stuck to the sides. Please remove any caps or covers from bottles and cans - these may be placed in the trash. Also, please do not place your recyclables in plastic bags, which are an environmental and logistical nightmare for recyclers! Finally, please ensure that only the items listed above are in your commingled recycling containers.

For paper products, keep paper products separate from cardboard products. Mixed paper should be placed in the proper bin and includes such materials as magazines, newspaper, office paper, “junk” mail and chipboard boxes (cereal/gift boxes).

Additional recycling tips are provided by the Hudson County Improvement Authority’s social media pages including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Working together, Hudson County can do our part to lessen the effects of this global crisis!


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