Changes in the recycling industry are prompting advocates throughout the region to examine options for continuing curbside collection in many area communities. The effort follows a decision by a main processor to stop accepting mixed residential recyclables on Nov. 1.
The announcement by Resource Management comes as the industry adjusts to China’s move to implement higher standards for imported fiber and solid waste, like paper and plastic. U.S. companies have been shipping recovered items to the Asian country for years to be recycled.
But an increasing amount of unaccepted items like plastic bags, garbage and containers with food still in them has prompted China and other nations to stop accepting recyclables from the U.S.
That is cutting into the bottom line of processors including Chicago-based Resource Management which has contracts with many area municipalities.
A local task force is trying to find a way to maintain curbside service as companies scale back those operations.
Jean Ponzi is on the board of the St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District and also serves as a regional recycling educator. She said she’s optimistic a solution can be found to keep residential recycling collection.
“Whether it might revert to dual stream or go to some other form, that's certainly been a question,” she said.
“The way that companies have invested in collection trucks, in processing equipment — all of that is geared toward everything goes in one bin, single stream. So the economics of switching that would be another wrench in the works,” she said.
The City of Kirkwood is the first community to react to the changing recycling landscape. It has announced plans to stop curbside service on Oct. 22.
“This decision was not based on costs,” Chief Administrative Officer Russ Hawes said in an emailed statement.
The city blamed international markets, “specifically by China’s decision.”
Kirkwood is planning to make adjustments to a recycling depository, which opened in the 1970s, to handle an anticipated increase in drop-offs once curbside service ends.
Ponzi believes the fact that Kirkwood is the first city to take action is a positive for the future of recycling in the region.
“There is a community there where you have skilled experienced leadership and you have a motivated population that is in the habit of recycling,” she said. “That's a recipe for problem solving.”
The regional recycling task force is working on an education initiative and plans to hold at least one community forum with all stakeholders to examine where recycling is headed throughout the St. Louis area.
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