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Chinese Policy Change Leads to Recycling Challenges in Massachusetts

Chinese Policy Change Leads to Recycling Challenges in Massachusetts

Boston, MA– Recycling. Some people won't shut up about their zero-waste lifestyle; others are just ambivalent and will recycle when it's convenient. On the spectrum of environmentally-friendly actions, recycling is perhaps the most widely accepted and the most common, as it's become so easy to do.

However, according to a new report by WBUR Boston, Boston recycling is suffering from a policy change in China.

What does China have to do with my empty cereal boxes going into bins in Dorchester? Welcome to the 2019 world economy.

"In the Greater Boston area, 80 to 90 percent of our material had gone to China," says Gretchen Carey, president of MassRecycle, a statewide industry organization.

We are largely dependent upon China to buy our recycled materials. So, if China were to suddenly decide that their standard for which recycled materials they'll accept were to dramatically increase, it would be devastating to our system.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened.

Carey says the price for mixed paper, for instance, has dropped from $75 a ton to less than $5. The shift, she says, "basically took our entire world and shook it like a snow globe."

WBUR notes how Massachusetts cities and towns are scrambling. They are mandated to recycle, but it almost always used to turn a profit. Now, it's unclear how they are supposed to make up those losses.

Another issue that arises is our laziness with recycling. Often we are putting things in the bins that simply can't be recycled, or are contaminated with food. China is not willing to accept this level of contamination in their recycled materials.

Vice president of recycling for a Municipal Recovery Facility in Charlestown, Bob Cappadona helps run these facilities that are meant to "clean up" our recycling and make it suitable for sale to countries like China. These MRF's are meant to decontaminate our recycling to about 3 percent, but China's new policy demands a staggering 0.5 percent contamination.

"You wouldn't believe what people throw into recycling bins," says Cappadona, "bowling balls, bricks, dog chains, hoses."

In the midst of this sudden policy shift from China, everyone can help out. Make sure you double check that what you are recycling can be recycled. And please, no bowling balls.