Recycling is Changing in a Big Way

Author: Erik Bakkom, PE Published: February 5, 2018

Have you heard the news? China recently began restricting the recycled materials it accepts for processing. Up until now, China has been one of the largest buyers of recycled materials from the United States, especially from West Coast markets. What does China’s decision not to purchase nearly as much recycled plastic and mixed paper from the United States mean for U.S. recycled materials?

So far, it means that they are piling up with nowhere to go or being discarded into landfills as waste.

States, municipalities, and recycling providers are scrambling to respond, reviewing current policies and procedures in an attempt to find solutions to this new problem. There are many potential options already being discussed, such as new sorting facilities and collection methods to meet China’s high standards; the development of more recycling facilities in the U.S.; energy recovery and conversion technologies; and more aggressive approaches to waste reduction at the consumer level. But which options are best?

At MFA, we believe that China’s new recycling restrictions provide an unprecedented opportunity to explore new approaches to dealing with recycled material—approaches that may provide more benefits to the U.S., including triple-bottom-line benefits to planet, people, and profits—than shipping our recycled material overseas.

This work will be ongoing at all levels, from policy to curbside pickup. There are no quick and easy solutions, but MFA is committed to finding a new way forward.

I am leading the participation of MFA’s economics team in conversations about new approaches. If you or someone you know is interested in this endeavor, please contact me at (360) 947-2207 or