Due to increasing pressures in the recycling industry, Logan’s recycling program will no longer accept plastics labeled with Nos. 3-7, officials announced Friday.
Rinsed plastic containers with Nos. 1 and 2 that once held food or liquid will still be accepted, but Nos. 3-7 is now contamination that has to be sorted out.
“We understand that this is likely a frustrating change for many of our residents as we have all grown to appreciate the diverse recycling options in Cache County,” states the release, written by Logan Conservation Coordinator Emily Malik. “But the reality is that plastics recycling is ‘broken’ in the United States and this trend is nation wide, not just local.”
China significantly reduced its recycling imports last year, contributing to the industry’s challenges.
Mountain Fiber Insulation, which buys and processes the commingled recyclable material Logan collects, can no longer find people willing to pay for mixed 1-7 plastics, Co-Owner Kim Allsop said.
“For a lot of years, Mountain Fiber has been able to find a market for a bale of plastic that contains No. 1s through 7s,” Allsop said. “And as long as we were able to cover our costs, that was something we were willing to do.”
But with China no longer taking in as much recycling, nobody’s buying mixed plastic including Nos. 3-7 anymore. Mountain Fiber could still find people to take those plastics for free, Allsop said, but the business couldn’t afford Logan’s tonnage and the cost of sorting and baling the plastics just to give the plastics away.
Mountain Fiber’s primary business isn’t in the recycling industry, Allsop said, it just uses the paper in some of its products.
“I really think we’re pretty fortunate in Cache County that Mountain Fiber has offered everything they’ve offered for as long as they can,” Malik said. “There’s a lot of cities that are really a lot worse off on the recycling front than we are.”
The New York Times reported recently that hundreds of U.S. cities have had to discontinue their curbside recycling programs, reduce accepted materials or drastically increase fees.
The Logan Environmental Department statement was sent to local media and posted to the city’s Facebook page on Friday morning. The changes go into effect immediately, according to the statement.
Logan handles curbside garbage and recycling collection for all of Cache County. Malik said residents should be mindful to only put No. 1 and No. 2 plastics along with paper, cardboard and metal in blue curbside recycling bins.
“We expect that the plastics and recycling industries in the United States are working on ways to find alternatives for plastics 3-7, but it is unknown how long it will take to make these changes,” Malik states. “Now is the perfect time for residents to evaluate their purchasing options to look for items packaged in plastic containers numbered 1 and 2 only.”
The numbers on plastic products refer to the International Resin Identification Coding System, which facilitates recycling by identifying what type of plastic an item is. Nos. 1 and 2 refer to polyethylene, which can still be recycled outside of China.
Many of the products most commonly recycled by consumers are made with No. 1 or No. 2 plastics, including bottles and milk jugs.
Malik said she believes that because 3-7 plastics are less common in household use, most households probably won’t notice a huge difference due to the change.
Even if they’re labeled No. 1 or No. 2, soft plastics such as shopping bags and plastic wraps cannot be accepted for recycling in Logan. Plastic items without an identification number are also considered contamination.
Contamination is a big concern in the recycling industry. China still takes plastic recycling, but its policy changes a little more than a year ago started turning away plastics with a contamination rate higher than 0.5%. The average contamination rate for U.S. recycling before processing, however, averages about 25%, according to Waste Management, Inc.
The biggest current contamination concern for Mountain Fiber, Allsop said, is wet paper and cardboard. If people leave their blue bin lids open during storms or snowmelt, Mountain Fiber can’t use any of that material — and it often can’t use your neighbors’ recycling, either.
“And so if you have … a city truck that picks up 10 cans of curbside recycling and one can is soaking wet, that one can can contaminate the other nine cans,” Allsop said.
Malik said the city plans to keep reminding residents about the changes and sharing recycling tips over the next few months. Malik said she’s still learning what those changes mean, herself.
“I just had a drink and I looked at the bottom and it was a 7, and I’m like, ‘That’s not totally normal,’” Malik said. “So people have to pay a little bit extra attention, and we’re going to try to help highlight things that surprise us as we move through this transition.”
Aside from the most recent changes, Logan keeps a list of what is and isn’t accepted for recycling on its website, loganutah.org. Questions may be directed to Malik at email@example.com.