Changes made by China regarding recycling have had a negative impact on the recycling commodities market in the United States, which in turn has changed Republic Services’ Corpus Christi recycling operations.
The City of Rockport contracts with Republic Services for garbage collection, as well as recycling. The company recently changed its collection method using large bins for garbage and recyclable materials.
Something is going to change in the future in regard to local recycling efforts. When such changes will occur, and what changes will occur was the topic of discussion at the Rockport City Council’s workshop Tuesday, May 22.
Republic Services’ representative Mike Reeves told the council, “The state of recycling has changed worldwide.”
He said China is the largest buyer of recycled items. Forty percent of what they buy comes from the United States.
“In 2017 China announced efforts to clean up its country, which included dramatic changes for acceptance criteria of imported recyclables,” said Reeves.
China significantly reduced the acceptable contamination level, from three percent, to .5 percent, in any recovered paper and plastic grades.
“China also banned all mixed paper from import, regardless of contamination levels,” said Reeves.
That represents 20 percent of the historical stream.
China’s actions have collapsed the average price paid to recyclers for a ton of mixed paper.
Last year the price was $97.50 per ton. Today it’s only $5.
If the recycled items Republic Services collects can’t be sold or stored, it will have to be disposed of at the landfill.
“We are coming up short every month because of the decrease in buy-back,” said Reeves.
He asked the council to consider a short-term rate increase of 27¢ to 30¢ per month.
Public Works Director Mike Donoho noted Republic isn’t due another rate increase for garbage, based on the Consumer Price Index, until October 2019.
Mayor Pat Rios asked Reeves where he sees this (recycling issue with China) going in the future.
“I have no idea,” said Reeves.
Donoho mentioned the city’s rate study is underway, and it could show the city needs to raise rates on all utilities.
“It’s just as painful to do it once (raise prices), instead of twice,” said City Manager Kevin Carruth.
He also asked how Republic Services would handle the city not offering recycling.
“We could change the lids on the recycling bins,” said Reeves.
Rios said there are options the city can look at, adding, “I don’t like the direction this is going long term.”
Carruth noted this is a legitimate issue.
“It’s not just one company trying to change its contract, said Carruth. “It’s affecting everyone.”
Reeves said the next steps needed are:
• Price increase to address shortfall due to the collection costs no longer covered by commodity revenues.
• Implement public education programs to inform residents what to recycle and how to recycle in order to clean up the contamination in the stream.
• Move to the new recycling business model at the next contract cycle, or via amendment to the current contract.
The council could not take any action at the workshop. It will continue to address the recycling issue everyone now faces.