YAKIMA, Wash. -- Bucking a growing national trend of scaled-back curbside recycling programs, Yakima’s private subscription service is still going strong with no rate increases planned in the next several months.
But that doesn’t mean it’s immune from changes brought by a Chinese initiative to decrease the amount of recyclables that country is accepting from the U.S. and other Western countries.
In January, Yakima Waste Systems was paying $2 per ton of recycling to be processed, said Keith Kovalenko, the company’s Yakima district manager.
Just one month later, the company began paying $55 per ton of recycling.
Processing facilities have increased their prices because of the additional work required to meet more stringent cleanliness standards for recyclables to be sent to China. The changes are a part of the initiative, called “National Sword.”
“We’re trying to ride this out for a little bit,” Kovalenko said. “But going forward the pricing will probably have to change.”
The company’s subscription prices are regulated by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which means any proposed rate increase must be reviewed by the commission.
But it seems some government-run recycling programs haven’t been so stable.
Some Pacific Northwest cities including Waitsburg, near Walla Walla, and Milton-Freewater, Ore., have reduced or completely suspended their recycling programs.
And in Marion County, Ore., on Monday, residents were asked to begin throwing away their shredded paper, egg cartons and most plastic containers.
Overall, the state Department of Ecology says, National Sword is creating a “major disruption” in Washington and companies have drastically slowed their processing of recyclables. Because of this, some recyclables may have to be dumped because the amount collected is exceeding processing capacity.
But the department continues to ask local governments and recycling collectors to hold off making permanent changes as the industry adapts to the new regulations.
National Sword started the beginning of this year as an effort to protect China’s environment and public health by limiting the recyclables it buys from other nations.
Prior to that, China was accepting about two-thirds of the entire world’s recyclables, including the majority of Washington’s.
Today, China will no longer take items from 24 categories, including unsorted paper and some plastics.
The good news is, newspaper and aluminum can still be recycled in local or regional markets, Kovalenko said.
But he can’t imagine what lies ahead as recycling companies attempt to make changes that still follow recommendations from the Department of Ecology but also keep them in business.
“Fortunately, we’re owned by Waste Connections, which is international, so we can weather the storm a bit,” he said. “We’ll keep going but I don’t know what the future looks like three, four, six months down the road because everyone is getting hit so hard.”