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China's Green Fence blocking North American plastic recycling

Reports suggest plastics recyclers in the US and Canada are being hit hard by China’s crackdown on contaminated recycling shipments.

Operation Green Fence was set up in February to enforce China’s existing standards on contaminated recycling. As a result low-quality materials are no longer being accepted.

Recycling firms are telling local media outlets unsorted plastic waste, including dirty drinks bottles and food containers, are now piling up at depots.

Far West Fibers in Portland, Oregon, reported it had stopped collecting certain types of plastics including CDs and DVDs and that it had “about 50 truckloads” that needed re-sorting.

Fellow Oregon recycling company CARTM told reporters at the North Coast Citizen it was now educating its customers on which types of plastic can be recycled.

“The timing is unfortunate. We just asked our community to learn a new method of sorting recyclable paper, which was planned for, but this one came as a big surprise to us, and the rest of the world,” said Jan Hamilton, CARTM executive director.

“This also means that we have a new opportunity to rethink purchasing decisions regarding plastic packaging made with #3, #6 or #7 recycling symbols stamped on them,” added CARTM board chair Karen Reddick-Yurka.

Canadian recyclers have reported similar concerns.

Low-grade plastic turned away

In Vancouver Jason Kemp, manager of Westcoast Plastic Recycling, told reporters at Canada’s Metro China was turning away any lower-grade plastic, unsorted plastic or materials that could contain bacteria such as beverage containers.

He said: “Anything that had liquid in it, anything that’s been used, anything that can carry bacteria, they don’t want it entering into China. So it’s really affecting recyclers that are taking the curbside [sic].”

Urban Impact Recycling said there were extra costs involved in hiring staff to sort through material.

New Westminister recycling centre reported a “huge backlog” of plastics.

George Jasper, manager of Waste Control Services, was reported as having similar concerns.

‘Shake-out effect’

He told reporters: “It’s going to have a shake-out effect in the recycling industry. Companies whose business model has relied on exporting recycling to overseas markets are going to be impacted majorly.”

The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) recently warned the new restrictions on contaminated recyclate had resulted in containers piling up at Chinese ports or even being returned.

A BIR spokesman told MRW last week: “This sudden enforcement of the legislation (particularly in southern China) has taken by surprise many shippers who were not always well aware of the details of the legislation.”

UK prices for mixed plastic bottles has slumped over the past few months. An industry insider told MRW there have been some incidents of large UK reprocessors having low-quality mixed plastics turned away from China. They also said there was evidence some suppliers were improving the quality of the materials through extra sorting.

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