SOUTH COUNTY — Patrick Matthews, general manager of Salinas Valley Recycles, says there have been many challenges in the recycling business over the past year that are changing how things are managed on the manufacturing side of recycling.
“What we’re talking about tonight is China’s ‘National Sword’ policy,” said Matthews during a presentation at a recent Gonzales City Council meeting. “This is a policy the Chinese have been working on for the last couple of years.”
According to Matthews, China doesn’t want the “junky recycling” that Americans have been sending them over the past 10 to 20 years.
“The reality is a lot of material we’re telling people can be recycled that is going into containers is being shipped overseas,” Matthews said. “And, China is moving out of the third world country status into the modern world and wanting to clean up their own act.”
This new policy means that items previously deemed recyclable won’t be in the future, and China will only accept items with a contamination level of 0.5 percent or 0.3 percent.
“Those of us in the industry or those of us who are running advanced processing plants like your hauler, Tri-Cities, that’s a pretty expensive requirement,” Matthews said.
Tri-Cities Disposal and Recycling as well as Salinas Valley Recycles will be forced to make changes, such as slowing down sorting lines and adding more staff. This could result in increased consumer costs for services.
It isn’t all bad news, existing plants in the United States would have the chance to grow and expand their markets and take more of the recyclable materials. The downside is that domestic markets will probably take a few years to be able to serve the changing market.
President Donald Trump has also started implementing tariffs that have both negative and positive effects. The negative side is tariffs could result in counter tariffs that might make those markets more expensive.
“The other good side is that this will stimulate more conversation or speed up conversation around sensible, sustainable, real packaging performance,” said Matthews.
Gonzales Council Member Robert Bonincontri had questions regarding plastic bags and Styrofoam. According to Matthews, plastic bags can be easily processed for recycling, whereas Styrofoam was previously accepted as part of a short-term project, but that project was swamped with the material and no longer takes it.
How is this going to affect residents of South Monterey County? Maury Treleven, who represented Tri-Cities Disposal and Recycling, said Tri-Cities has added four people to the processing line at the Materials Recovery Facility. The effort was toward cleaning plastic aiming to achieve the 0.5 percent contamination level.
“They are constantly looking for new markets,” Treleven said. “A permanent full-time person is on staff to look at market materials, find new customers and get new countries to be able to market them.”
Treleven also wanted to remind consumers the three words that come in a particular order: reduce, reuse and recycle.
“Recycle is the stop gap measure before we head to the landfill,” Treleven said. “It’s a last ditch effort. In our communities and in our businesses, we need to be focusing on reducing our consummation of single-use items if there is an alternative reusable item available, we need to be switching over to that.”