With China’s new rules about recycling, we need to clean it up

Make sure you know how to recycle the right way to ensure materials are turned into new products.

There’s nothing quite like the arrival of summer in the Pacific Northwest. After months of drizzle, it seems everyone is shucking raincoats and catching up on barbecues and beach parties.

This season of paper plates, wedding invitations, takeout food and on-the-go activities, however, can make it easy to get sloppy with recycling. And even though Snohomish County is home to a strong recycling program, there’s no time like the present to make sure we’re all recycling right.

By recycling, you’re helping to put valuable materials like paper, plastic and metals to their next best use. After leaving your recycling bin, recyclable materials are sorted and shipped to “end markets” (manufacturers in the U.S. and worldwide) to be made into new products.

Markets for recyclable materials have been in flux for months, since China announced stringent requirements for cleaner materials (less contamination in the recycling). China’s new policies have forced a global reset for recycling because China has historically been the world’s primary purchaser of mixed paper. The result is a global oversupply of mixed paper, an energized pursuit of new markets and an unprecedented need to “clean up recycling” — to ensure materials are actually turned into new products.

What can you do to help sustain a healthy recycling system in our community?

Keep recycling! Recycle all bottles, cans and paper. By placing the right materials in your recycling cart, you are preparing them for their next life as a new product.

Keep items clean and dry. That means no food, liquids or wet materials. When paper products are wet or have food residue, they start to breakdown and cannot be made into new products. No one wants to buy a notebook full of pizza grease! Because all of your recyclables go into one cart, it’s important that cans and food containers are free of food residue to keep that paper nice and clean.

Place recyclables loose in your cart. No bagged materials and no plastic bags of any type in the recycling. Bags of recyclables often look like bags of garbage at the recycling facility, so they end up at the landfill. Also, when the bags break, they get tangled in the equipment at the recycling facility, creating maintenance delays that slow the process and make recycling more expensive for our community.

While you’re at it, help your friends and family recycle right when you host barbecues or picnics this summer by providing recycling and compost containers — with easy-to-read labels. If you use single-use items, be sure to dispose of them in the right bin. Uncoated paper plates and compostable service ware can be composted. Better still, instantly up the decor of your event and protect the environment with reusable containers, plates and silverware.

Cheers for sustainable, summer fun!

Michelle Metzler is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. Learn more at recycleoftenrecycleright.com.

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