Stricter Chinese Policies Boost Cost Of Recycling – A new recycling policy in China has had a massive impact on recycling markets across the world, and Cape Cod is no exception – Stricter Chinese Policies Cost Recycling
A new recycling policy in China has had a massive impact on recycling markets across the world, and Cape Cod is no exception.
In the region: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has issued waivers for haulers to dump recycling as trash; recyclable-sorting facilities have closed to commercial haulers as storage areas have been packed with material waiting to be shipped or sorted, catching the eye of local fire departments; and the price of recyclables as a commodity has dropped significantly while the cost to recycle has increased.
In some instances, recycling has become more expensive than the disposing of trash.
Municipalities that had to negotiate contracts in the midst of the crisis have had to pay much higher costs for recycling.
Mashpee, for instance, has paid $25 per ton as a tip fee to dispose of its single-stream recycling in a facility in Taunton. But a contract recently signed by the board of selectmen for the upcoming fiscal year agrees to pay $50 a ton.
The town had looked to go back out to bid, but learned that some towns, such as Barnstable, are paying close to $100 per ton. The Integrated Solid Waste Management Facility in Bourne this week raised its rate from $62 a ton to $95.
For some, the market may not change for some time.
The reason: China decided to be more strict on the recyclable materials shipped to its factories. The country originally allowed for a certain amount of contamination of the recyclables—whether a small amount of plastic bags in a paper stream or something similar to that—but they decided to decrease that allowable level of contamination to a level many in the Massachusetts industry think is impossible to reach.
“It’s turned the market on its head,” said Joseph A. Crowley, the New England regional manager for We Care Environmental.
We Care is under the same umbrella as Gott Do contracting, which currently has a contract with Mashpee.
We Care runs what is called a “Materials Recovery Facility” in Taunton, which manually and mechanically sorts recycling. The materials collected at the Mashpee Transfer Station are sorted at the Taunton facility, where they typically would be shipped to China.
Since China’s ban went into effect, the facility has shut down four or five times over the course of the month as the paper in the facility has stacked too high and the local fire department took notice. Mr. Crowley has looked to ship his product to India, Vietnam and other Asian countries, but the price is not what it was.
In Westborough, E.L. Harvey & Sons runs a similar recycling facility that collects recyclables from several Cape municipalities, including shipments from Bourne and Falmouth. It is one of the largest recycling facilities in the state. Ben Harvey, president of the company, said that they currently have 5,000 tons of sorted paper in storage sitting in a parking lot covered by tarps, collected since the new China practice started.
The stored sorted paper grows 70 to 80 tons a day. Mr. Harvey said his firm was able to make a shipment to Korea recently, but it still was not enough to keep the stored material from growing.
The company president said that they can hang on for another six months at that rate, but not much longer.
“At some point, we are going to run out of space,” Mr. Harvey said. At which point, he said, he would not be surprised if MassDEP allowed them to start throwing the paper away (MassDEP has a ban on disposing of recyclable materials).
On the commercial level, trash haulers worry that their customers may be just throwing away recyclables with the increase in price. Commercial haulers take trash and recycling from businesses and neighborhood associations like Southport in Mashpee.
Sean DeLude, the owner of Nauset Disposal, one of the largest commercial haulers on the Cape, worries that his competition is just throwing away the recyclable materials to avoid the cost.
“This is forcing people not to recycle,” he said. A lot of processing plants have begun to charge more for recycling than trash, he said.
And that is if a commercial hauler can find a place to accept the recycling. The We Care facility closed for some days to commercial haulers in order to make room for their own contracts. “We had a few days that we would have so much loose material in the front that we couldn’t process anymore,” Mr. Crowley said. “So I had to call commercial haulers and say I can’t take anymore.”
Mr. Harvey in Westborough said that they are no longer accepting new municipal contracts because they can only handle what they have in front of them.
Greg Cooper, MassDEP director of business compliance and recycling, said that while the latest may be more extreme, the recyclable market has dipped and recovered in the past, like the stock market. He said that towns, however, in the midst of redoing contracts are “bearing the brunt of this drop in the market.”
Falmouth, for example, has a five-year Republic Services contract that began in June 2017, with built-in limits on any additional increases.
Asked how long he thinks it will last, “I don’t know,” Mr. Cooper responded. “We are keeping our eye on things and identifying where the markets are and where they are headed.”
MassDEP is attacking the problem on two fronts: seeking to make the recycling export products cleaner, and creating a market locally for non-exports.
For one, the agency educates residents and municipalities about recycling habits to help clean up the region’s recycling. In this same vein, they are providing incentives and grants for processing plants to improve their machines. Companies can apply for grants to enhance their efficiency and bring the contamination levels down to a level where China might accept the material.
Secondly, they hope to help recycling markets take shape locally. Glass reuse, for instance, Mr. Cooper said, should be able to find a “good strong market in the region,” whether it is turned back into bottles or used in road construction projects. The department also provides grants to municipalities to set up glass-grinding machines that could turn the material back into a reusable product that the local public works department could then use.
China has undercut the market for the last several years so recycling businesses have not sprouted up, but Mr. Cooper said that he would not be surprised if a paper mill opened soon.
“That’s not a six-month project, but we might see that soon down the road,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Others in the market see a possible silver lining. Falmouth Department of Public Works Director Raymond A. Jack said that the latest situation provides a new opportunity.
“China was a cheap disposal solution for years, but improved product purity is really where the industry needed to go anyway,” Mr. Jack said. “Thus, it represents an opportunity to rethink how recyclables are ultimately processed and new opportunities will be born.”
Carl F. Cavossa Jr., a local commercial hauler, said that the situation could encourage a local recyclable-materials market. He said there could be a market for plastics to be turned into building products on the Cape, as an example.
But how long that market lag will last is anyone’s guess.
For Mr. Harvey in Westborough, he is hoping that China will reconsider—and soon. “If they could change back, everything would be fine,” he said.
But he points out that he is dealing with a socialist government and not a democracy. “Nothing is making me think that this will happen anytime soon,” he said.