Changes in the overseas recycling market may soon have an impact on curbside services in Livingston County.

Unbeknownst to many, a majority of the recyclable material that consumers put in bins ends up being shipped overseas to China for processing. With homeowners putting a wide range of recyclables in the same container, the sorting becomes a problem. Julie Cribley of Recycle Livingston said that labor is cheaper in China and it is easier to get people to sort there. But due to high contamination from items being put in bins that don’t belong there, China is changing their standards of what they will accept come March 1st. The new standard will be .5% contamination, which Cribley believes is almost impossible to meet. This could cause a reduction in accepted types of materials from curbside bins. She applauds China for what they are doing and thinks this might be the event that changes how we handle recycling practices state-side.

Cribley said, “I see this as a perfect opportunity to finally do recycling right. We need to start looking at how we handle our materials. We need to put more money behind this and build an infrastructure that can handle our own recycling. We need to start educating people on the proper way to recycle and rethink how we do this. We need to change our mindset from ‘this is garbage,’ to ‘this is material that we need to take care of.’”

Cribley said many recycling collectors in the United States have started looking at other options like India or Vietnam, but she can’t predict on whether they will eventually adopt the new standard China has. She also believes that the mindset has to be changed to accept that recycling is a service that should be paid for, stating that it never should have been free. If Recycle Livingston didn’t have membership and gate fees, Cribley said they would have been out of business a long time ago. Because of these fees, they have been able to monitor more closely what comes in. She said they could likely continue to do business with China and their new standard until proper infrastructure is in place to handle recycling locally. (MK)