What schools need to know about China’s import ban on some recyclable materials

China is the largest user of recyclable materials from the United States. Several factors make China a good market for U.S. recyclers, particularly those on the Pacific coast. Shipping costs are low, and China has a high need for recyclable materials for manufacturing products. China also has lower labor costs to sort contaminants from recyclable materials.

Last year, China announced that by 2018 it will ban the import of some recyclable materials to reduce the amount of contaminated materials brought into the country. It also announced a new and stricter contamination standard of 0.3 percent. A typical  recycling facility allows contamination rates of 3 to 5 percent.

King County recycling haulers have not said if they plan to change their policies on what they will or won’t collect from residents and businesses. Some recycling companies have developed new recycling markets in other parts of the world and domestically. China’s new policy provides motivation to use more recyclable materials domestically to make new products and to educate our community about what can and can’t be recycled.

Here’s what schools need to know:

  • Recycling continues to be the right thing to do – it saves energy and natural resources and decreases greenhouses gas emissions that lead to climate change.
  • Emphasize preventing waste in the first place. Limit paper use, print and write on both sides of each piece of paper, and using durable trays, utensils and water bottles that can be washed and used again.
  •  It’s very important to reduce contamination such as foods, liquids, and non-recyclable items in recycling bins. The cleaner the recyclable material, the more marketable it is. Students and staff can help by following these simple guidelines:
    • IMG_0052No liquids in recycling bins. Place only EMPTY beverage containers (milk cartons, plastic bottles, aluminum cans) in recycling bins. Drink all the liquid in a container or pour out remaining liquids into a “leftover liquids” bin in the cafeteria or into a sink. (Remember to “pour low, pour slow” to avoid splashing.)
    • No food in recycling bins. Place only empty, recyclable food containers in recycling bins. Cheesy or greasy pizza boxes should go in the compost bin or in the garbage in schools that do not provide collection of compostable materials. Yogurt containers with yogurt still inside should be placed in a garbage bin. If yogurt containers are rinsed clean, they can be placed in a recycling bin. But in school cafeterias where containers can’t be emptied and rinsed, they should be placed in garbage bins.
    • Only place accepted recyclable materials in recycling bins. Check the recycling signs that should be on or above recycling bins. If your school does not have recycling signs, ask your King County Green Schools Program representative for signs.

 When in doubt, ask your hauler, your Green Team, or the King County Green Schools Program, or place the item in a garbage bin.

Encourage your school’s Green Team to take on one or all of these as project ideas. Resources are available from a King County Green Team specialist or a King County Green Schools Program representative.