The fall semester is flying by at Rider, like leaves that are suddenly falling from the trees. With the change in seasons, students are bogged down with papers, exams and a plethora of other assignments and activities. It is easy to get caught up in the constant motion of college, and to miss current and surprising issues surrounding sustainability, but something big is happening. The future of recycling as we know it is changing and it’s not just here, it’s everywhere. Recycling at Rider has changed since last year. What you may not know is, recycling has been affecting the U.S. and many other countries in overwhelming ways.
Last year at Rider, we were promoting single-stream recycling on campus where you could mix all of your recyclables in one bin that accepted all plastics. Now, unfortunately, due to the massive amounts of contaminated recycling loads the U.S. has shipped to China, we can only accept specific plastics and must separate our recyclables into groups of plastic and glass, and paper and cardboard. We must be sure to always clean the items we recycle. The most common contaminants which end up in recycling bins are plastic bags, food, liquids, flexible film packaging, paper napkins, paper plates, cups, tissue and foam items.
This dramatic change started to take place over the summer when China began a campaign to ban foreign waste as part of an effort to protect people’s health as well as the environment in China. A lot of the materials that they were buying and receiving to process as recycling was heavily contaminated and ended up adding to their landfills. Now, China has told the world, “enough of your garbage.”
Because of the efforts to keep their country green, 24 types of foreign solid waste are no longer being imported. Facilities all over our country are scrambling to find alternative ways to sell the recyclables. Some counties have been successful in finding alternatives, but many are struggling. For many curbside recycling programs, the cost outweighs the benefits, so many recyclables are ending up in landfills.
The U.S. and Europe have felt the impact most, but other countries that depend on China to sell their recyclables have also suffered. Since China began implementing its import ban policies, they accept less of what they used to. The closer inspections of containers of scrap arriving at Chinese ports are resulting in an increasing amount of contaminated recyclables being turned away. In response, waste, recycling haulers and processors in the U.S. are now starting to increase their rates, citing the need to do more secondary sorting to ensure recyclables are “clean” enough for export to China. Some of the bigger haulers are even investing in high-tech facilities that do optical sorting. On the other hand, some haulers are simply treating contaminated recyclables as trash and bringing them to the landfill instead. Other countries have also had to find alternative markets for the recycling material they collect at the curbside every day.
Larry Lapidus, Rider’s account representative from Trenton Waste Management, said that these changes have affected his job and his business.
“Because China no longer accepts plastics or mixed paper, New Jersey has had to scramble to find alternative buyers,” he said. “China’s economy isn’t doing as well as it used to and the cost of buying recyclables now outweighs the benefits.”
He urged the students of Rider to stay away from plastic bags especially.
“The bags students use to hold their recyclables have jammed equipment and caused all sorts of issues that affect the processing of recyclable material,” he said.
He wants students to “treat their plastics like dishes, ensuring they are clean before putting them in the bins.”
The new changes have put stress on the already overwhelmed janitorial and facilities staff. Students at Rider are mostly unaware of these changes and their effects. To know we all could be causing other recyclable materials to end up in landfills is shocking and more people need to be educated on these issues.
Although Waste Management and the Office of Sustainability at Rider try to keep recyclable material out of landfills, in some places, the extra effort has not been made. Recyclable materials that are going to landfills add to an already enormous waste problem. The solution lays in adopting zero-waste strategies and being extra careful what you recycle. You can also recycle your beauty product containers through TerraCycle on campus by putting them in the green bins located in the dorm bathrooms and trash rooms. There is also a collection bin in the Bart Luedeke Center Commuter Lounge for Rider non-residents. You can recycle your grocery bags at Shoprite or other stores that offer plastic bag recycling. At Whole Foods and on campus, you can recycle your old technology such as iPods, chargers and old phones. This is the future, and we can each do our part make the change we want to see in the world.