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New Recycling Guidelines Could Mean Higher Costs

Recycling: changes in a global structure are pushing costs higher.

Posted: Jul 4, 2018 8:01 AM
Updated: Jul 4, 2018 8:02 AM

Chico, Calif. -- During a recent conversation with Chico's City Manager, Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough asked about various fiscal challenges facing the city. One topic that came up was the increasing costs of recycling for the agencies which provide that service to customers. Further research indicated economic forces overseas are now having a ripple effect for customers in the North State.

The General Manager of Recology, a regional recycling firm servicing many customers in Butte and Colusa Counties, describes recycling as “the right thing to do.”

During a tour of the company facility located in Marysville, one gets a sense of just how much refuse customers generate.

There are heaping mounds of discarded items; everyday household goods and products that most of use and when finished we toss the packaging. To help the environment, most of us have been taught to recycle. Then, processing companies, such as Recology, handles the product in order to sort, process, bale and then export.

That process is now costing companies more.

General Manager Mike Leggins has been in the waste and recycling industry for more than thirty years. He explains that changes in a global structure are pushing costs higher. He says the company is now getting paid 50% of what it was receiving a year ago. He also says employees and crews spend more time processing and earning less for the materials.

During a behind-the-scenes tour, Leggins explained the broader economic realities of the recycling industry. He explained that much of California's as well as the Nation's recyclables are sorted, processed then baled and exported to foreign markets. 62% of the material is exported to china.

In July, 2017, China instituted a policy called "National Sword.” It tightened restrictions on what recyclable materials it will accept and with how much contamination. That means in part; more discarded packaging must be free of food debris and there are specific items which cannot be included in baled recyclables.

Leggins says that includes Styrofoam, food in containers which have remnants of food inside and plastic bags. He says another big violation is pizza boxes which have food on them. He explained that last year, the amount of contamination accepted was close to four or five percent. Today, he says the contamination levels must be less than point-five percent.

That means crews working at recycling centers much be more diligent in sorting recyclables.

Leggins says that translates into more workers have on the line and also more hours to get the same amount of volume. He says in addition to longer processing times, the company is earning less on the volume generated. And that then translates into increased costs with a portion likely passed on to consumers.

The industry wide challenge is now to educate the public. A representative with Northern Recycling and Waste Services, which also serves the North State region, says helping consumers understand the news challenges is key.

Representative Jennifer Arbuckle says whether it is a resident or a business, it is critical to know what items go where.

Additional knowledge is one way to keep customers engaged in the recycling habit because experts in the field say the alternative would be a lot of stuff landing in landfills.

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