How the Bay Area is impacted by chaos in US recycling industry

The U.S. could soon drown in a sea of recycled paper, plastic and cardboard because overseas companies that reprocess it into new products can't handle the load. A decision made by China against accepting U.S. recycling is causing chaos. 

This problem is coming to your house, and everyone else’s. It's time to learn how to generate less recycling or learn to live in it.

Most U.S. recycled paper, plastic and cardboard are exported to China, by container ship for reprocessing. But, in recent months, the Chinese, who recycle half of the word's recyclables, started demanding purer, cleaner bales of recycled materials, which makes them easier and more profitable to reprocess. Throw in looming trade war politics, and now, China has essentially stopped taking any U.S. recycling.

Port trucking company owner Bill Aboudi, says his customers are telling him this, "Don't expect any export bookings for waste paper, it won't be happening.”

“So, all of our accounts are putting us on notice that they're not going to be shipping export," he said.
Just at the Port of Oakland, exporters export 300,000 trailer loads of recyclables every year. Now, should that business go away, local truckers stand to lose about 1,150 loads a day and that's going to wipe a lot of truckers out.

Republic Services, one of the nation's largest waste hauling and recycling operations, is very active in the Bay Area. Republic did a mass mailing this week, asking customers to wipe out food containers, put nothing greasy in the recycle bin and make sure all plastics are clean and dry. 

The New York Times reports that Republic, which put no recycled materials in landfills last year, has already sent some 2,000 tons of Oregon's recyclables to landfills this year. 

San Francisco-based Recology, a national leader in recycling for many years, saw this coming and found the few places left on earth that will accept their volume. 

"We're placing materials in a number of different countries and it is true that these other countries don't have as large of ports as China had," said Recology spokesman Robert Reed. 

So, if many other U.S. recycling firms and agencies find those nations sold out and unable to accept any more, America could soon find itself overwhelmed in recycling, reversing decades of progress.