As Recycling Costs Rise, Recycle 2.0 Effort Launches

Exchange Orcas Recycle 2.0

On August 9, recycling prices will increase. A 32-gallon can of recycling will increase from $4 to $5; and here’s why.

The cost for a 32-gallon can of recycling will increase from $4 to $5; and a ton of recycling from $200 to $250—a 25 percent hike.

This change is due to the nation-wide crisis in recycling industry as a whole. In January, China announced dramatic restrictions on several categories of recyclable waste coming from the United States. For years the country has been the final destination for most of the stuff Americans collect in their kitchen recycle bins. Those days are over.

Of the more than 20 materials China has restricted, the most impactful to households are mixed plastics and mixed paper. This gets to the heart of co-mingled recycling programs across the Country and particularly here in the Northwest, where disposal prices have skyrocketed.

“The price we pay Waste Management to dispose of the island’s recycling has increased by more than 140 percent since last year, and more than 2,000 percent since the beginning of 2017,” says Pete Moe, executive director of Orcas Recycling Services (ORS). “We simply have no choice but to raise rates at this time.”

Any price increase for garbage or recycling in San Juan County must be approved by the County Council. That approval came for both Orcas and San Juan in the last several weeks.

While some have criticized China’s actions, Moe says that it’s not really that country’s fault. “China has been taking our highly contaminated recycling for years, and running recycling factories that contribute to their terrible air quality problems. I am not surprised they have grown tired of it.”

It has been common for bale of mixed paper or plastics going to China to have contamination rates of 10 percent or more. China’s new standards are requiring contamination rates of 0.5 percent or less—rates that are essentially impossible for US sorting facilities to meet.

That brings part of the blame back to the recycle bins in our Orcas kitchens: “As much as we try to educate the public on what is and is not recyclable, we still see an incredible amount of garbage in the recycling,” says Moe. “But this summer we are introducing a new effort to clean up the stream.”

ORS is calling the effort “Recycle 2.0” and the first part is an education project that will run at least through the end of 2018. It will include new printed guidelines, mailings, news and info in the local papers and social media.  New educational efforts will also begin at the transfer station, including signage, handouts, and volunteer screeners on-site.

The second part of Recycle 2.0 is more forward thinking: “The bottom line is that the international recycling system is expected to be broken for several years,” says ORS board president Tim Blanchard. “We need to act locally and do more than wait around for new factories and technologies to take hold in the US.”

For Orcas, that means speeding up plans to build a material sorting and baling facility at the Orcas Transfer Station. This will allow sorting of valuable commodities like metals and cardboard onsite, and more economical shipping of bales to the mainland for resale. It also means sorting and crushing glass to be reused on island as a landscape or fill material.

ORS is planning a public Recycle 2.0 panel discussion in October. It will feature a guided conversation with experts on garbage, recycling, composting, and reuse, with time for public questions and answers.