Municipalities see changes in recycling as China’s market changes

Published 12:10 am Sunday, June 9, 2019

By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — Last year, China added restrictions to what plastics it accepts, and municipalities in the county are being forced to adapt, with one town discussing eliminating it completely.

Under the new policy, called National Sword, China has decreased the amount of lower-quality recyclables the country would accept and the plastic bales can’t be more than 0.5% contaminated.

At last week’s Salisbury City Council meeting, members received a presentation about recycling from Mark Pullium, a sanitation crew leader with City of Salisbury, to promote the right way to recycle. Pullium shared what could make something contaminated, which ruins the piece of recyclable material and those around it. 

“If you get a Coke bottle and it’s halfway full of soda and ends up in the recycling,” Pullium said. “It ends up in a truck. They compact that bottle. When they compact it, the soda — sugar — gets over everything.”

The exploded soda, he said, has contaminated the materials in the truck and sugar also doesn’t melt at the same rate plastic does.

He recommended rinsing items before recycling and also having a separate container for recyclables.

Wendy Worley, section chief with the recycling and materials management section at N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, said the rinse can be quick, and not necessarily through a dishwasher. She advised doing a harder rinse or even a soak with stickier food items, like mayonnaise and peanut butter.

Pullium added not to bag recyclables since it can shut down the facility.

China is also being more particular about the recyclables they want. Pullium said recyclables with a No. 1 or No. 2 in the recycling symbol are desirable. Though the higher numbers are less desirable, Worley said she still recommends recycling, especially because there is a market in North Carolina for recyclables.

She said bottles, tubs, jugs and jars are recyclable. Every recycling facility is different though, and each locality may have different regulations.

Some towns such as Landis have discussed eliminating recycling completely. The town is currently working through its 2019-2020 budget and recycling costs are going up.

Town staff have said residents are also concerned recycling is being mixed in with trash.

But if people or municipalities choose not to recycle,  it will consume more landfill space, said Caleb Sinclair, Rowan County environmental management director. He said recycling is crucial.

The county also provides recycling centers across Rowan and can accept material not accepted for curbside pickup at some locations. That includes TVs and motor oil. Sinclair called the program “pay as you throw.”

Pullium says the city of Salisbury needs to advocate for recycling and promote it because it’s the right thing to do. The city has a 65 to 75% participation rate.

“That’s wonderful,” he said. “We need to try to get it to 100% while reducing contamination.”