The Atlantic County Utilities Authority is getting pickier about which materials it will accept for recycling, in response to an ongoing crackdown by China on what types of materials it wants.
Now, only plastics #1 and #2 that have necks smaller than their bases will be accepted for recycling, said ACUA Communications Manager Sara Verillo.
“The explanation we have been given is, even though some plastics have the same number, they still may have a different chemical makeup,” said Verillo. “Bottles, jugs and containers of a similar shape (smaller top, larger bottom) are most likely to be made of high-density polyethylene or colored HDPE, which is what manufacturers want the most.”
The authority also can no longer accept shredded paper, pizza boxes, wrapping paper or tissue paper, aerosol cans or paint containers.
China is the world’s largest importer of materials for recycling, taking 48 percent of the world’s plastic waste in 2015, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. For about two years it has been rejecting bales of materials considered contaminated by mixing of materials or food waste sticking to them.
The company that handles the processing and marketing of recyclables for ACUA, Republic Services, decided it was time to ask residents to stop recycling items China will consider contaminants, even if they are marked like other items, she said.
Plastic items that are still good for recycling include soda and water bottles, ketchup and salad dressing bottles, and detergent jugs, she said. Lids should be removed and thrown into the trash, and bottles rinsed.
“That covers a lot of the plastics we use,” Verillo said.
A smaller number of plastics — yogurt containers, for example — will not be accepted anymore, she said.
The news release announcing the change was blunt, saying: “When in doubt, find out, or throw it out,” it said.
ACUA President Rick Dovey said the packaging industry needs to start investing in recycling here in the U.S.
“This is a byproduct of their products,” he said of the huge waste stream of mixed plastics. Items like plastic bags are only recyclable through special collection efforts at supermarkets, but they create big pollution problems and gum up the machinery at the ACUA when people put them in with their recycling.
“It will take time for the recycling marketplace to develop. What we need is more facilities in North America and the United States,” said Dovey.
Other countries like Vietnam and India have followed China in increasing contamination requirements, he said.
“They don’t want to be the dumping grounds” for problematic plastics and other materials, Dovey said.
The ACUA is also encouraging residents to rethink what they buy and remember that “reducing and reusing are always the best options.”
It will take time to re-educate residents, Verillo acknowledged.
“It starts right away ... and we do want to get the word out as soon as possible,” said Verillo. “We will start monitoring bales that come in to see where contamination is worst, where it’s coming from and work with those towns to clean up and see where we have to do more education.”