As China reduces the amount of recyclable waste it's willing to accept from the United States, communities across the country are scaling back their services to accommodate the changes. In Sierra Vista, the city decided to do away with curbside service. Beginning in July, residents will have to bring their recyclables to drop-off sites. City of Sierra Vista Public Works director Sharon Flissar explained more about why less of the country's waste is being shipped overseas, and the ramifications.
"It all started in China about two years ago. They were receiving a lot of recyclables that had garbage mixed in — too much garbage. And the processing costs for that for them were very high," Flissar said. "What we see sometimes is what we call aspirational recycling. People have items that they really want to recycle that aren't in the current recycling stream so they'll put them in their bin anyhow hoping there will be a way to recycle those. And unfortunately, there's not. And that ends up being counted as contamination."
According to Flissar, on average up to a third of the recyclables in a bin are considered contaminated, well above the 0.5% contamination rate China is willing to accept.
"So you're taking stuff coming out of the blue bins that's at 20-30% and you're trying to sell it at market with no more than 0.5% contamination. It's very low, and in a lot of cases it's impossible to meet," Flissar said.