Friday, 26 January 2018 05:39

China's waste import ban to have little impact on recycling in Swift Current

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The decision by China to ban the import of certain recyclable plastic and paper might have a significant impact on the global recycling industry, but it will not affect the operation of the City of Swift Current's multi-material recycle depot.


“It will have no impact on our ability to market what we’re doing, because of the way that we collect and sort our recycling,” said Mitch Minken, the City of Swift Current's general manager of infrastructure and operations.
The Chinese government's ban on the import of four classes and 24 kinds of solid waste, including plastic waste, unsorted waste paper and waste textile materials, started on Jan. 1.
China notified the World Trade Organization in July 2017 of this adjustment to the list of imported solid waste, which is aimed at reducing the amount of dirty or even hazardous wastes that have been included with recyclable waste material.
According to Minken these changes are related to concerns about the contamination of recyclable materials that have been exported by other countries to China.
“They’re concerned about the level of contamination and they’ve set a new limit,” he explained. “I believe it’s set at 0.5 per cent. So if the contamination is that high, then they’re not going to accept it.”
The City of Swift Current already requires that residents separate materials before they bring it to the multi-material recycle depot.
“Our operation is a multi-stream, sorted operation,” he said. . So when you go to our manned recycle centre, you’re instructed and you put your paper and your cardboards in the various bins, and your plastics are all separated into the proper types of plastic. So it means our contamination level is basically zero because we don’t mix our products in comparison to where places are doing a single stream collection, say in a blue bin, where you put all your recycling into one container and then that goes to a sorting centre. Then it has to be sorted into the various products that are then sold off for recycling.”
He is not sure if recyclable materials from Swift Current have been exported to China in the past, because the City's collection contractor will transport the material to a Regina facility, which acts as a broker to find markets for different recyclables.
“We have the advantage of sorting it,” he said. “They take it in a sorted form and then they market it wherever they market it to. In talking to them they’re a little hesitant to divulge where their markets all are, because it’s considered a competitive advantage or competitive secret, but we’ve had no impact on the ability to move our recycled products, and from what they tell us, because we have zero contamination, they have no problem marketing our product.”
Joanna Fedyk, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, said waste brokers will have to look for other markets that are willing to accept the materials banned by China.
“People are looking to some of the other Asian countries besides China,” she noted. “There’s a lot more interest in Indonesia, Vietnam, that kind of thing. So that’s happening, but how successful they are finding additional markets I’m not sure yet. ... It depends on if there’s still markets somewhere else who will take it like that. Basically the cleaner it is and the more pure one kind of plastic it is, the better chance you have of finding someone who can use it.”
Single-stream recycling is still the norm in Saskatchewan, which means the recyclable materials are mixed together during the collection process.
“It’s most common in Saskatchewan for all the materials to be co-mingled together, and then separated at a plant, because the easiest thing for residents to do is just to put all the recycling in one place,” she said.
The materials are then separated for reuse at a materials recovery facility. There are two in Regina, one in Saskatoon and a few smaller ones elsewhere in the province.
The Chinese decision will create uncertainly in the global recycling industry, but Fedyk is also concerned about the potential impact on people's efforts to recycle.
“I’m worried that it will make recycling go backwards,” she said. “There’s a faction of the population that already believe that it’s not worth recycling because it all ends up in the garbage and it’s generally not true, but this will reinforce that belief.”
At the same time the  Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council views this as a good opportunity for people to consider ways to reduce the use of plastics.
“One way you can be sure your plastics aren’t going to landfill or being shipped to China is to try and use less plastics,” she said. “Another thing that consumers could do is they could say to companies how much of your package is recycled, so that they would drive a market for recycled plastic, which would help as well.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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