Environment | Sustainability | Ecotrope

Recyclers Limit Plastic Collection As China Stops Buying

Ecotrope | May 2, 2013 3:24 p.m. | Updated: May 2, 2013 4:29 p.m.

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Oregon recyclers have stopped accepting certain kinds of plastic because China has stopped buying them.

Chinese recyclers are no longer buying plastic items with the numbers 3, 6 or 7 on them, and inspectors are checking for and rejecting shipments of mixed plastics from overseas. The list of plastics China no longer wants includes disposable coffee cup lids, PVC pipes, certain kinds of clamshell containers, and garden planters with flexible walls, to name a few.

Chinese recyclers are no longer buying plastics with the numbers 3, 6 and 7, including disposable coffee lids like this one.

Chinese recyclers are no longer buying plastics with the numbers 3, 6 and 7, including disposable coffee lids like this one.

The restrictions have left recycling companies across U.S. without buyers for many of the plastics they have traditionally accepted. They don’t affect curbside recycling items like milk jugs and yogurt tubs, but they are limiting which miscellaneous plastics recycling depots will accept.

Far West Fibers president Keith Ristau said 50 trucks worth of mixed plastic from his company’s recycling depots has piled up after orders from China were canceled. It will need to be re-sorted into individual types of plastic before it can be sold, as will the plastics are now being collected at recycling depots.

“We used to have just one big bin at our depots, and you threw all the plastics in there, and we just baled it and shipped it to China,” he said. “Now we have to sort it by the specific resin, so we have four or five bins instead of one.”

Far West Fibers and other Portland-area recyclers are meeting with officials at Metro next week to find new buyers for the recyclable plastics China won’t take.

Metro recycling manager Andy Sloop said there are still good markets for the kinds of plastics accepted in curbside recycling programs.

“What’s mostly at issue is low-grade, mixed, rigid plastics that aren’t supposed to go into curbside bins,” he said. “It’s things like lids and toys and swimming pools. It’s not plastic soda bottles or milk jugs.”

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