King County officials say China’s refusal to accept U.S. recycling could lead to increased costs and missed environmental goals. But maybe there's a way to clean up our act when it comes to recycling.
China has been the main customer for mixed paper collected in King County. But lately China has shut down that market, saying U.S. recycling isn’t pure enough — we send along too much material that can't be processed.
King County officials say their haulers are now implementing new surcharges, trying to find other countries to accept the paper, or seeking to place it in landfills.
Pat McLaughlin, who heads King County’s solid waste division, said one thing the county can do is make recycling rules more uniform from place to place.
“Overall we have some very admirable recycling rates — 54 percent, much better than the national average of about 34 percent," McLaughlin said. "However, depending on wherever you live, work and play – and most of us don’t live, work and play in the same place – recycling rules are different. And thus the well-intended recycler’s putting the wrong thing in the wrong bin.”
He’s worried that the news from China could lead people to think they shouldn’t bother recycling. That could hurt progress on goals around climate change and cause landfills to reach capacity sooner than expected.
For now, McLaughlin said people should keep recycling, and make sure materials are empty, clean and dry.