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Waste Management is Keeping Plastic Recycling Domestic

In 2018, China’s National Sword policy forced the United States to stop sending recyclable materials to China. The limitations have led to changes to the recycling process in the U.S., and changes in the market for recycled materials, which has affected the overall financial cost of recycling.

While some materials had been sent to other countries, plastic pollution, as well as improper recycling practices, have caused some recyclers to rethink their approach.

In October of last year, Waste Management, Salt Lake City’s recycling processor, made the announcement that they will not export residential plastic waste. Rather than rely on sending materials to countries outside of China for processing, Waste Management is keeping plastic recycling domestic. Several other companies have adopted similar policies. That means that the plastics you recycle at home will be processed in North America.

By focusing on building domestic markets, Waste Management’s policy will help ensure plastics are properly recycled and that they don’t end up polluting the environment through inadequate processing, containment, or disposal overseas.

Photograph of Waste Management collection truck in front of MRF. The truck is green with text that reads "Think Green, Think Clean."

Recycling Matters:

Plastics make up 11% of Salt Lake City’s waste stream (by weight). Luckily, Salt Lake City recycles a lot. In June of 2019, we recycled 585 tons of cans, bottles, paper, and cardboard! The city recycles or composts 42% of the waste collected from residents. Recycling is crucial to protecting the environment. Indeed, recycling on this scale helps save trees, water, and energy. Moreover, proper recycling helps prevent greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste Management’s shift to keeping plastic recycling domestic will help make recycling even better. Waste Management acknowledges the specific threat plastic pollution poses to our waterways, explaining that out of all countries, the U.S. is the twentieth highest contributor of marine debris.

Recycling residential plastic domestically helps to reduce the likelihood of this kind of pollution.

Shifting Markets:

According to their statement, Waste Management has worked to diversify end markets since 2013. In 2017, Waste Management “was marketing 63% of all its recyclables (paper and plastic) to domestic markets.” Now, Waste Management is working to strengthen domestic markets for the recycled plastics, which will help keep plastic recycling financially- and environmentally -viable.

Waste Management isn’t alone in working to strengthen the post-consumer plastic market. The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, a coalition of plastic bag producers, has recently pledged to use more recycled plastic in their production. By using recycled plastics, the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance will help increase demand for high quality plastic recycling – which Waste Management is helping keep here in North America.

New Technology:

A key part of keeping up with recycling is improving technology. Waste Management is currently building a new state-of-the-art Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Salt Lake City which will open in early 2020. The MRF will be more efficient both economically and in terms of producing a higher quality end product.

Graphic depicting what is recyclable in Salt Lake City. Text reads: "Recycle? Yes: Boxes, Cans, Cardboard Packaging, Paper, Plastic Containers, Paper Bags, Books."

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Remember, reducing plastic consumption is the best way to prevent plastic pollution. But if you have plastic to dispose of, making sure it is properly recycled can make a big impact. In Salt Lake City, plastics make up 13.3% of what ends up in the landfill — but many of those plastics are likely recyclable if washed and dried. Plastic bags and films should be returned to the grocery store for recycling. Clean plastic containers can go into your curbside bin!

For a complete guide to Salt Lake City’s curbside recycling, visit: https://www.slc.gov/sustainability/waste-management/curbside/recycling-can/.

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