Recycling has gone through some big changes over the last year, and the effects of those changes can be felt locally.
Beginning in 2018, China enforced a ban on importing plastic wastes and other recyclables from outside countries. This has had an impact around the world, as most of the world’s recyclables were sent to China for processing. The ban, which is referred to as the "National Sword" policy, is causing problems regarding recycling in America.
Since China will no longer accept imported recyclables, transfer stations across the United States have nowhere to send that waste and are being forced to change the way they operate.
Some transfer stations, such as the local St. Francois County Environmental Corporation, are only accepting certain recyclables that fit the tight standards set up by China. These acceptable recyclables include clean cardboard, newspapers, glass, and metals.
But because of this change in acceptance, local recycling companies and cities that have previously collected recyclables now have limited options where to take what they collect.
As Desloge City Administrator Dan Bryan explained, “China (was) taking in the majority of (the United States) recycling. They’ve stopped purchasing those recyclables from us, so basically (the transfer station) has no outlet for the recycled material. So, it will be going straight into the landfill as garbage at this point until there’s another method.”
Desloge is just one city to suspend their recycling pickup program amidst the changes, Bryan said. “The landfill notified us that they are going to stop taking recycling materials. So basically everyone in the county for the most part is going to be suspending their recycling programs.”
The Park Hills City Council voted to on Oct. 9 to stop their recycling program.
Bonne Terre suspended recycling services effective Oct. 31. City Administrator Shawn Kay said that he and his city would like to protect the environment as much as possible, but keeping the recycling program running just would not be worth the cost.
Small town governments have tried to find other companies to do business with, so they could continue their recycling programs. But, as Kay said, “The other companies we have contacted will not take single-stream recycling.”
Single-stream recycling simply means that companies or cities are able to send all of their recyclables, whether it be paper or plastic or cardboard, and dump it into the back of one truck to have it taken to the transfer station. The transfer station would then sort out the different types of recyclables before exporting it.
While some transfer stations do still accept recyclables such as cardboard and newspapers, it is not single-stream, and the items have to be separated prior to being brought to the transfer station.
So, if companies still wanted to send their recycling now they would have to separate it all by hand. Due to the stringent rules laid out in China’s ban about what they will and will not accept many companies and cities do not believe it would be worth the time or the money to do anything but single-stream recycling.
This doesn’t mean that recycling in the area is over indefinitely, though. The City of Farmington decided to keep their recycling program going, even though it meant higher costs to the city. But why is Farmington different?
"The other cities in the county actually provide trash service," City Administrator Greg Beavers said. The city of Farmington, however, does not offer a community-based trash service. So their trash and recycling is not sent to the St. Francois County Environmental Corporation. Recycling is instead e dropped off at a recycling location, reserved for city residents only. It is then collected by Republic Services, which utilizes their own material recovery factory in the city.
The City of Farmington is paying about $1,100 more to keep Republic Services on their recycling program. But as of now, they don't have another option. "Republic Services is the only person in our current market that has the capabilities to pick those (recyclables) up," Beavers said. Farmington decided that the higher cost, currently sitting about $1700 a month, would be worth it to keep their recycling program going, at least for now.
"When I took the issue to the city council, they decided to continue recycling and see if the market (that has been disrupted due to China) will correct itself," Beavers said.
Other than the rise in cost, Farmington has also run into problems by keeping recycling in the area. "The site has a lot of trash and non-recyclables that have been dumped," Beavers said. From honest mistakes to intentional dumping, things like discarded deer carcasses and bags of trash have to be gone through before Republic Services will pick it up, and that's a job that lands on Farmington workers.
As for now, though, the city of Farmington is keeping recycling for city residents, and the hope is that the market will fix itself and widespread recycling will return.
Some businesses are also looking at ways to make trash and recycling programs more sustainable in the future. Kenny Chiarelli, owner of Freedom Waste in Farmington, has several ideas about how recycling can continue in the new year.
The company hopes to offer successful alternatives to throwing away items that could be reused. The Hub, which was owned and operated by Freedom Waste, was a location where people could take any items they did not want or use and donate them. Anybody could come in and take anything they wanted or needed from the Hub. It was meant to help the community cut down on waste by repurposing and reusing objects that may have otherwise ended up in the trash.
Unfortunately, the Hub proved to be too popular and had to be shut down earlier this year. According to Chiarelli, the Hub received too much traffic. The phone number used for the Hub was the same number used for Freedom Waste’s customer services, and the line quickly became backed up with calls about the Hub and it became too much for the company to handle.
Chiarelli hopes to see the Hub up and running again at a larger location in Farmington, hopefully by the first or second quarter of this year.
Freedom Waste is looking into other alternatives as well. Chiarelli says they are also looking forward to starting a type of “repair café” in the area, a place where people can bring in broken or faulty items and volunteers can help fix them and make them usable again.
The company is also looking at adding its own recycling center, so they can take people's recycling from the area and have it processed locally. And perhaps a food diversion program, which would focus on taking overstock or unused food from restaurants at the end of the day and bringing it either to their own facility or to a local food bank. This would help reduce food waste significantly.