Tag Archives: recycling

The missing link between the Circular Economy and Sustainability

For those of us in the field of sustainability, the Circular Economy is not a new concept. However, when it comes to the Circular Economy and plastics too often there is a misunderstanding of how the two relate. The Circular Economy is used as simply a re-branding of recycling. The idea that recycling will solve the plastics dilemma is a misguided direction that has been pushed for decades. To achieve a sustainable plastics economy, we must understand the Circular Economy and refocus the vision.

The Sustainable Plastics Economy is a guide, written for those wanting to implement the Circular Economy within the plastics industry, providing a deeper understanding of the Circular Economy, and a vision beyond simply recycling. It is a method to replicate the efficiency of nature as intended in the Circular Economy.

The Sustainable Plastics Economy integrates a complete Circular Economy approach with the unique challenges of plastic. It includes the concepts of Sustainable Materials Management by addressing the full life cycle impact of various plastic options such as, what types of materials to select, where to source raw ingredients, waste infrastructures, and customary discard scenarios. The Sustainable Plastics Economy creates a dynamic, data driven approach to create a system designed to replicate and ultimately integrate into nature, as intended in the Circular Economy precept.

The link below allows for a complimentary download of the Sustainable Plastics Economy guidebook. This guide provides an overview of the Circular Economy concepts and introduces the Sustainable Plastics Economy. Also included is a five-step process for organizations to implement the Sustainable Plastics Economy in a practical and pragmatic method.

Download a complimentary copy of the The Sustainable Plastics Economy here:

The Sustainable Plastics Economy Guidebook

 

 

Study Finds Recyclability Issues In Weight, Labels for PET Bottles

By Martín Caballero, BEVNET

For consumers, the recycling process begins and ends the moment they place a used plastic bottle in the bin.

For brands and bottle manufacturers, that process is considerably more complex. And as a movement towards sustainability and waste reduction continues to shape the industry, both are taking a closer look at how physical characteristics, design, and supplemental materials like ink and glue can affect the recyclability of bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Plastic Technologies Inc. (PTI), a firm that provides package design, development and engineering services to bottle manufacturers, explored this issue in a recent study analyzing how PET bottle weight affects performance, cost, and environmental impact, as well as how other design decisions influence recyclability.

The results concluded that ultra-lightweight bottles can negatively impact the effectiveness of recycling systems, while showing that the a majority of the bottles tested showed significant issues in recyclability, based on Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) guidelines.

The study analyzed 500mL PET bottles, sold individually at room temperature, from the highest bottled water consumption regions where market-leading global brands are sold, including the U.S., Mexico, Europe (France, Italy, Switzerland), and India. Each were tested for weight, pressure, product volume, fill point, top load, thickness, section weights, color and closure types.

In an interview with BevNET, Marcio Amazonas, Director of Latin American Operations for PTI, said that study was partially intended to send a message to the category market leaders that good design, in terms of recyclability, can be a positive influence on the industry.

“We wanted to make this study as a competitive analysis to show who are the best brand owners in terms of a good design for recyclability,” said Amazonas. “It’s also sending a message to our own customers that we can help you improve your design.”

Weight is a crucial factor in determining bottle recyclability, but it has also increasingly become a way in which brands communicate a premium offering to consumers, and attempting to balance these two competing interests can make things even more complicated.

The samples evaluated from the U.S. reflected this stratification. Out of the seven, two samples came from premium-priced packages sold in 6-packs, which were around 22-23 g. The rest came from bottles of mid-range priced water, weighing 13-17 g, and value-priced bottles, weighing 7.5 to 8.5 g.

However, the study notes that the performance was not a direct correlation to the weight of the package.

“Sometimes the best ones were too heavy, so they are good in a way but they are not the most environmentally sound, because they could be lighter, Amazonas said. “But that’s a brand owner choice to position that brand as premium. So they want to go with the heavy plastic; that’s their call, but it’s not ideal for efficiency.”

In recent years, some brands, such as Nestlé Waters, have adopted ultra-thin, super lightweight bottles based on the idea that they are more environmentally friendly because they require less energy to manufacture and transport. Yet according to Amazonas, recyclers are complaining about problems related to those bottles as well.

For example, lighter packaging can increase the number of bottles entering the recycling stream; Amazonas estimated that it could add 10,000 bottles per ton of recyclable materials.

Furthermore, when labels are sorted in a process called elutriation, they are soaked in a large tank of water to separate PET from polyolefins. Afterwards, an air current dries the materials and pushes the labels out of the chamber, but if the bottle is too light, it will be forced out as well.

“The yields suffer not only because of the potential presence of non-PET, but also mechanically speaking, the process is designed for a certain density that suffers with this lightweighting,” said Amazonas.

Besides weight, Amazonas noted that ink and label type as other potentially disruptive factors to the recycling process, as materials, colors, sizes and even the label application process all have an impact.

Of the seven U.S. samples tested, five had polymer labels, one had paper and one had a combination of the two. Five out of seven samples used a wrap-around label, while two used an adhered label.

All seven U.S. bottle samples tested had labels that caused color and clarity change in the wash, and label bleed was the most common issue observed. The study concludes that “the use of soluble inks and glues and the specification of the label substrate could have resulted in much better recyclability scores.”

“I think the ink is one of the big issues because it is so simple to resolve, and of course [the brands] are all competing on price and going for the cheapest thing,” said Amazonas, noting the presence of other non-PET contaminants in labels, such as PVC, that burn at different temperatures can cause recycling operations to reject certain bottles. “So sometimes it’s an economic decision on the design side to get to lower cost labels, inks and glues, and that’s what makes the design a little poor.”

In terms of solutions, Amazonas said the ideal PET bottle from a recyclability perspective would be clear with no colorants and none of the chemical additives that are sometimes used to create a barrier between the plastic and the liquid in bottles of milk or juice.

On a moral level, he noted the efforts of regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in promoting sustainable materials management, and said that brands will seek to capture the market of conscious consumers who expect recyclability to be a key component of a company’s mission.

“The heaviest volumes of bottle-to-bottle use is here, so we have all the good reasons to thank the market leaders like the guys we tested and we keep pushing,” he said. “They are not doing anything horrible, but if we don’t talk about it they will probably go with the most economic solution.”

Yet despite his deep knowledge of the industry, Amazonas said that the most important logistical piece of the recycling process is the simple act of the consumer throwing the bottle into the collection bin.

“If there’s no collection, there’s no recycling — so what’s the point?”

Read original article here: https://www.bevnet.com/news/2017/study-finds-recyclability-issues-weight-labels-pet-bottles?utm_source=BevNET.com%2C+Inc.+List&utm_campaign=37a1f533c8-mailchimp&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f63e064108-37a1f533c8-168618890

Is recycling the key to sustainability?

graphThe 2015 U.S. plastic bottle recycling rate posted a slight decrease of 0.6 percent compared with 2014, according to the figures released by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in the 26th annual “National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report.” At the current and projected rate of production, a plateau like this should ring alarm bells!  The data clearly shows we are not going to recycle our way to a sustainable future.

As someone who’s actively engaged in the sustainable management of plastics, I pay close attention to companies that are managing our waste. These companies are on the frontlines of managing the recovery and disposal of solid and hazardous waste materials, which include landfills and recycling centers. I strongly believe that integrating the advice from these groups and working with them hand-in-hand should be an integral aspect to any sustainability program.

For example, at the recent 2016 Resource Recycling Conference in New Orleans, CEO of Waste Management, David Steiner, specifically pointed out that in order to achieve the “biggest bang for the buck” environmentally, coupling recycling with landfill gas-to-energy offers the greatest return value. This is the “environmental” recommendation from David Steiner, not a shareholder perspective. And Waste Management should know, they are after all the ones actually doing all the work in collecting, processing and managing the vast majority of the our waste.

His shareholder perspective is profitability, as it should be.   In a recent interview with Bloomberg, David Steiner explains that when you look at the various commodities that are recycled, there are some that are profitable. Those are primarily fiber (paper) and metals. Once you start moving into organics (plastics) and glass, they become less profitable (and in most cases over the past few years, they have lost money). In places like California they’ll do things to subsidize those types of materials to ensure Waste Management makes a profit, and then people can recycle those materials… Elsewhere, this does not work economically and understandably so. However, Waste Management will do what the municipality wants, just not at the expense of its bottom-line.   They’ll be happy to recycle everything; it’s only a matter of how much you want to pay for it. But buyers beware if the commodity prices do not cover the processing costs, recycling becomes an exercise in futility.

Nonetheless, if the municipalities are willing to pay (increase taxes) for this exercise, Waste Management will be happy to oblige. They will “recycle” it, collect it, sort it and they will process it. For Waste Management, processing costs and a little profit are baked into the contract. If there’s no market, no problem for Waste Management, this material will end up disposed into a form that is not recycling.

Recently at K 2016, Patrick Thomas, chairman of the European trade group Plastics Europe, said that “every tonne of plastic that goes to landfill is a waste. It is too valuable a resource to go that way.” Really, if it needs to be subsidized by the government (tax payer money), what value is he referring to and is it sustainable?

Where exactly is the value? Last year the average bale price of recycled bottles fell by 31%, meaning that the bottles were less valuable last year than the year before. Couple this with oil prices dropping by 47% and the result is a compounded decrease in the “value” of recycled plastics.

Today, 80 million tons of non-reusable/non-recyclable plastic packaging is produced annually. This volume is expected to double in 20 years. If this 80 million tons were simply designed to comply with the primary disposal method (a.k.a. modern landfills), this material could provide enough energy to power 30 million homes for a year!

Nearly 50 years has passed since the launch of the first universal recycling symbol, today only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. When additional value losses in sorting and reprocessing are factored in, only 5% of material value is retained for a subsequent use. Meanwhile, in a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish [by weight].  What are we doing?

There’s a pervasive attitude that we must recycle everything at all costs, this is not sustainable by any definition. Plastics, unlike aluminum, can only be recycled 3-4 times; eventually it will find its way into our waste streams and into our environment.   Although recycling does provide us the option to extend the life of some plastics, it is not an ‘end-of-life’ solution. We cannot recycle our way out of the environmental waste problem plastics are causing. If companies continue to ignore performance compliance with todays’ primary means of disposal, facilities that actively control and convert biogas into clean alternative energy (intrinsic return value), progress will remain stagnate. The science and data validate David Steiner’s recommendation; including landfill gas-to-energy provides an environmental and economic value higher than any other option.  We can take the advice or not, Waste Management will come out ahead either way, but will we?

Orange County is packing power in Landfill Gas-to-Energy

th7PCDTFTS

Do it for the OC! Can you imagine the concentration of plastic packaging that’s accumulated in Orange County alone?   Beyond standard recycling, did you know that Orange County has installed four Landfill Gas-to-Energy facilities? The most recent $60 million dollar investment will power 18,500 homes. Altogether, the four facilities will produce 400,000 megawatts of electricity per year, enough to power more than 50,000 homes. These projects are turning our waste into clean energy all over the country and right now they’re the single-most common disposal environment of plastic waste. Ensuring energy recovery in packaging design offers the greatest value in full-scale recycling. Get it out of the environment and into the grid, make today’s waste, tomorrow’s energy!  Design for disposal.

The Recycling Crisis

Earlier this month I attended the 2016 executive sustainability forum and had the pleasure of listening to Jim Fish – Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Waste Management. In his presentation Jim discusses the circular economy and the current state of recycling. The presentation is an honest and straightforward discussion about recycling. Here is the brief synopsis of his presentation:

Currently Waste Management is the largest residential recycler in the world. They have invested more than $1.5 billion into their recycling infrastructure – in past years they were investing $300-$400 million each year. With this amount of money invested, it is in Waste Management’s best interest to see recycling thrive.

Unfortunately, we are in a crisis with the current state of recycling. This is due to several factors: commodity pricing, quality of collection and changing packaging trends. We are now in the fourth year of low commodity prices, which directly jeopardizes the profitability of recycling. The quality of recycled materials has decreased due to single stream recycling infrastructure where consumers place up to 30-40% non-recyclable materials into the blue bin. And considering that most recyclable products are related to packaging, the trend toward non-recyclable flexible packaging is replacing packaging that was previously recyclable. So while flexible packaging is a winner from an environmental standpoint because it is light weight, energy efficient and uses much less resources to produce, it is not recyclable.

Each of these factors contributes to the current crisis and as the largest recycler Waste Management has an interest in solving the crisis. They also have a unique position because Waste Management is both the largest landfill owners/operators and the largest recycler which makes them the key to solving the recycling crisis. When they fix recycling for Waste Management, they fix it for the entire industry.

As a business, Waste Management cannot continue to invest in recycling with a hope that markets will improve. While they have invested over $1.5 billion dollars into recycling, today that is nearly non-existent. They must adapt to the changing market.

The recent trend pushing the belief that recycling everything is the end goal has caused some companies and communities to establish zero waste, landfill diversion and zero landfill goals without consideration of the environmental impacts. Some materials have a larger greenhouse gas footprint by recycling rather than landfilling. Reaching total diversion goals will be difficult to achieve due to the issues going on with the recycling industry and may cause unintended consequences.

Jim closed his presentation with some thought provoking questions.

What is the end goal? Are we trying to reduce greenhouse gases or simply looking to recycle everything? There is a cost to achieving any goal. In this case it may be an environmental cost as well as an economic cost.

What if instead of a goal to recycle everything, we focus on greenhouse gas reductions? When we do this we focus on recycling the right things – those that make a real difference.

There are various facts and assumptions that are out there. It will be good to identify how to make recycling environmentally and economically sustainable. We need to make recycling sustainable for the future – focus on recycling the right materials, set realistic goals and not try to recycling everything – this just leads to higher costs without the added benefit.

Sweden recycles 99% of Waste?

Today I ran across an article claiming that Sweden now recycles 99% of all it’s waste. Interested to learn how the Swede’s had figured out the recycling conundrum the rest of the world faces, I delved into the article. To my dismay, this was clever redirecting and marketing. Somehow it is now considered recycling to burn trash??
http://truththeory.com/2014/09/17/sweden-is-now-recycling-99-percent-of-its-trash-heres-how-they-do-it/

Sweden does have high recycling rates (in the traditional definition of recycling), here are the 2013 figures:

Material Percentage
Glass 89.00 %
Cardboard 77.20 %
Metal 73.10 %
Plastic 36.70 %
Drinking containers 88%
Biodegradable food waste 13.5 %
Office paper 66%
Batteries 65%

More sources of statistics can be found here (summary in swedish): http://www.sopor.nu/Rena-fakta/Avfallsmaengder/Statistik

However, when did we redefine recycling to include incineration? There is no environmental benefit to redefining verbiage to skew the data and make ourselves feel better. Let’s just stick with the actual facts and forget the clever re-directions: Sweden recycles about 49% of their trash, they incinerate about 50% and the remaining is landfilled. No sugar coating needed.

Paid to Recycle

Rethink Recycling

It never fails that at least once a week I see articles and reports regarding problems with our recycling system. Across the world we constantly see recyclers going out of business, china refusing to import recycled materials, governments and companies having to constantly funnel more money into recycling programs and an incredible media push to try and increase recycle rates. And yet, with all these problems I have yet to see an article that proposes a paradigm shift – instead it seems the thought is; “we will make up our losses with volume”.

Interestingly, you will never see recycling the way we attempt it today occurring in nature. I have yet to see a natural process that takes a wilted flower, chops it up and recreates a new flower; or feathers that have fallen off a bird reattached to another bird. Even if this is were theoretically possible, the resources required to do such a thing would make it too inefficient. This is similar to the problem we see in our current method of recycling – the resources required to complete the process are not equal to the value of the recycled material. This results in the unsustainable system we have today.

Perhaps it would make more sense to follow the example of what has worked for millions of years. In nature, waste materials are broken down into basic building blocks (soil, air, water) in a process that instead of requiring resources, provides value into the overall system (bio-degradation). These building blocks in turn are used to rebuild almost anything. This is a sustainable and resourceful process – true recycling. This is also a process that we can replicate today. Isn’t it about time we replicate the genius of nature and quit propping up unsustainable systems?

There is no arguing the serious growing environmental problem with the waste that is being produced and that recycling the way it is structured today will NOT solve that problem.  If we are to get serious about sustainability and solving the global plastic pollution issue we need to stop sticking our heads in the sand and incorporate various solutions, with recycling being one of them.  BUT, and that is a very big “but”, we have to stop pushing bad and misguided ideologies. All plastics are technically recyclable (meaning reusable as a polymer) and if society is going to financially prop up recycling businesses – we should be requiring them to take all plastics.  Additionally, for the long term objectives, all plastics should be biodegradable to ensure the polymer itself does not linger after it’s useful life.

To achieve success, we must all work together, recyclers should be accountable to embrace new technologies and join the group of us trying to solve the global pollution issue rather than simply cherry picking ideal applications, holding a facade of environmental motivation and ultimately simply looking to return a profit.

Plastics News: Auditor recommends changes to California container recycling program

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: November 12, 2014 5:02 pm ET
Updated: November 12, 2014 5:14 pm ET

California’s beverage container recycling program, at nearly 30 years old, is broken.

With cost overruns of $100 million in three of the last four years, one key problem is paying out refunds for beverage containers that were actually purchased out-of-state and never subject to California’s deposit system, according to a new report from the California State Auditor.

Last fiscal year’s cost overrun at the program overseen by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery was nearly $29 million, the report states.

“CalRecycle needs to better respond to the fraud risk presented by the importation of out-of-state beverage containers for recycling refund payments,” warns a summary of the report issued by the auditor’s office.

California has never expected every single one of the containers subject to the deposit law would actually be recycled. And it’s that difference in what is paid by consumers and what is actually refunded that has historically covered operational costs of the program.

A break-even point for the program is a 75-percent recycling rate, but CalRecycle reported a recycling rate of 85 percent in 2013, the auditor’s report states.

“Based on that recycling rate, the revenue collected from beverage distributors is no longer adequate to cover recycling refund payments and other mandated spending,” the summary states.

While the problem is now years in the making, the program has been able to stay solvent thanks to what the auditor calls “significant loan repayments, primarily from the State’s General Fund.”

The state General Fund and Air Pollution Control Fund, at the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year, owed the beverage container program $497 million. But repayments in recent years have brought that balance down to $82 million.

These loan repayments have allowed the beverage container program to continue operating, but have also masked the program’s cash flow problems, the auditor reported. “Based on the recent financial condition of the beverage program … immediate action is needed to ensure the continued viability of the beverage program,” the auditor warns.

Solutions include reducing or eliminating subsidies to beverage makers, “requiring them to pay the full cost of processing fees” paid to recycling centers and other entities, the report states.

The state currently subsidizes more than half of thee processing fees, and eliminating that subsidy would add $60 million to $80 million.

Another way to raise revenue for the program that started in 1986 could be the elimination of a 1.5 percent administrative fee that beverage distributors are allowed to retain. This could add another $18 million to the coffers, the auditor’s report states.

In total, the audit report has identified potential savings and additional revenue of up to $233 million annually for the program.

CalRecycle Director Caroll Mortensen, in a letter to the auditor, said the agency “generally agrees” with recommendations regarding recycling program fraud detailed in the report “and will strive to implement them over time.”

Read the original post here: http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20141112/NEWS/141119970/auditor-recommends-changes-to-california-container-recycling-program

Comment by Danny Clark:

While ENSO supports recycling efforts and recycling (when done correctly) is a key part of an overall sustainability mission it begs the question why are recyclers in other states able to run a successful recycling business but in California the recyclers can’t? Maybe its time to eliminate the subsidies to recyclers in California and put that money towards a better use?

FTC Finds Company’s “Recyclability” Claims Misleading

Company’s Green Claims for Plastic Lumber Misleading

FTC Order Requires Firm to Have Distributors Take Down Ads With Unsupported Claims

A Wisconsin-based manufacturer of plastic lumber products has agreed to stop making allegedly unsubstantiated claims about the recycled content and recyclability of two of its brands of plastic lumber.

Under the FTC settlement, the company, N.E.W. Plastics Corp., must have credible evidence to support any recycling-related claims it makes, and is required to tell its distributors to remove any marketing material for the two products provided by the company before December 2013.

“Consumers deserve to know the truth about the products they are buying,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Many of them want to buy products that are environmentally friendly, but they can’t do that if they get information that’s wrong or unsupported.”

N.E.W. Plastics Corp., which also does business as Renew Plastics, is based in Luxemburg, Wisconsin, and makes plastic lumber products, including the Evolve and Trimax brands, which are used to make items such as outdoor decking and furniture. It sells the products to consumers through distributors.

In its administrative complaint, the FTC alleges that between September 2012 and March 2013, N.E.W. made false and misleading claims while promoting Evolve and Trimax. Specifically, the company claimed:

    * that Evolve products are made from 90 percent or more recycled content;
    * that Trimax products are made from mostly post-consumer recycled content; and
    * that both Evolve and Trimax are recyclable.

The proposed consent order prohibits N.E.W. from making any statements about the recycled content, post-consumer recycled content, or environmental benefits of any product or package unless they are true, not misleading, and are substantiated by competent and reliable evidence, which for some claims must be scientific evidence.

The proposed order also bars N.E.W. from making unqualified recyclable claims about any product or package, unless the product or package can be recycled in an established recycling program, and such facilities are available to at least 60 percent of consumers or communities where the product or package is sold. If N.E.W. can’t meet these requirements, it must qualify the claim regarding the availability of recycling centers. If only part of a product or package is recyclable, N.E.W. must disclose to consumers which part or portion of the product or package is recyclable.

Finally, the proposed order bars N.E.W. from providing anyone else with the means of making false, misleading, or unsubstantiated claims. The order will end in 20 years.

Information for Consumers

The FTC has new information for consumers in a blog post on its website. Also the FTC provides detailed guidance to businesses on environmental claims in its Green Guides.

To read the full article from the FTC go to http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/02/companys-green-claims-plastic-lumber-misleading

China recycling cleanup jolts global industry

Business Week By Joe Mc Donald October 03, 2013

BEIJING (AP) — China for years has welcomed the world’s trash, creating a roaring business in recycling and livelihoods for tens of thousands. Now authorities are clamping down on an industry that has helped the rich West dispose of its waste but also added to the degradation of China’s environment.

The Chinese campaign is aimed at enforcing standards for waste imports after Beijing decided too many were unusable or even dangerous and would end up in its landfills. Under the crackdown dubbed Green Fence, China has rejected hundreds of containers of waste it said were contaminated or that improperly mixed different types of scrap.

It is abruptly changing a multibillion-dollar global industry in which China is a major processing center for the world’s discarded soft drink bottles, scrap metal, electronics and other materials. Whole villages in China’s southeast are devoted to processing single products, such as electronics. Household workshops break down discarded computers or appliances to recover copper and other metals. Some use crude smelters or burn leftover plastic and other materials, releasing lead and other toxins into the air. Green Fence is in line with the ruling Communist Party’s pledges to make the economy cleaner and more efficient after three decades of breakneck growth that fouled rivers and left China’s cities choking on smog.

Brian Conners, who works for a Philadelphia company that recycles discarded refrigerators, says buyers used to visit every week looking for scrap plastic to ship to China for reprocessing. Then Beijing launched its crackdown in February aimed at cleaning up the thriving but dirty recycling industry.

“Now they’re all gone,” said Conners, president of ARCA Advanced Processing.

American and European recyclers send a significant part of their business to China and say they support higher quality standards. But stricter scrutiny has slowed imports and raised their costs. The decline in the number of traders buying scrap to ship to China has also depressed prices American and European recycling companies can get for their plastic and metals.

“While we support Green Fence, it has increased our cost of doing business,” said Mike Biddle, founder of MBA Polymers, a plastics recycler with facilities in California, Europe and southern China. “It takes longer and there are more inspections.”

At the same time, people in the industry say recyclers that invest in cleaner technology might be rewarded with more business as dirtier competitors are forced out of the market. The crackdown also might create new opportunities to process material in the United States and Europe instead of shipping it around the globe.

China’s recycling industry has boomed over the past 20 years. Its manufacturers needed the metal, paper and plastic and Beijing was willing to tolerate the environmental cost. Millions of tons of discarded plastic, computers, electronics, newspapers and shredded automobiles and appliances are imported every year from the United States, Europe and Japan.

But environmentalists have long complained the industry is poisoning China’s air, water and soil. And Beijing, ever vigilant about possible threats to the legitimacy of one party rule, now wants to be seen as addressing increased public awareness and concern over pollution.

“The waste recycling system in China really needs to be updated to reduce pollution,” said Lin Xiaozhu, head of the solid waste program for the Chinese group Friends of Nature.

In 2011, recycled scrap supplied some 21 percent of the nearly 100 million tons of paper used by Chinese industry, according to the state-run newspaper China Daily. It said that resulted in a savings of 18.7 million tons of wood.

In Europe, electronics recyclers recover about 2.2 million tons of plastic and metal annually and send about 15 to 20 percent of that to China, according to Norbert Zonnefeld, executive secretary of the European Electronics Recyclers Association. Its 40 member companies include electronics manufacturers and copper smelters.

European recyclers welcome China’s tighter enforcement because it will help them comply with European Union rules on tracking waste and ensuring it is properly handled, said Zonnefeld. Still, he said, some traders have run into trouble.

“I have heard material has been sent back,” said Zonnefeld. “Of course, they should have known. They were just gambling.”

The United States relies even more heavily on China to recycle its waste.

Americans threw away 32 million tons of plastic in the form of packaging, appliances, plates and cups last year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 1.1 million tons was collected for recycling.

About half of plastic soft drink and water bottles collected in the United States for recycling are sent to China, according to Kim Holmes, director of recycling for the Society of the Plastics Industry in Washington. She said nearly all plastic from U.S. electronics waste is exported to Asia.

“The export market is a major component of the broader U.S. recycling industry,” said Holmes in an email.

China allows waste shipments to contain no more than 1 percent unrelated material. But Customs officials say some were found to be up to 40 percent unrecyclable trash.

“Some unscrupulous traders, in order to maximize profit, smuggle medical and other waste inside shipments, a direct threat to everyone’s health,” said a Shanghai Customs Bureau statement in April.

Despite a ban on imports of used tires, inspectors intercepted a 115-ton shipment of them in March, the bureau said. They were labeled “recycled rubber bands.”

ARCA Advanced Processing dismantles about 600,000 refrigerators a year and recovers 80 tons of plastic a week, plus copper, aluminum and other metals, according to Conners. He said those still are sold to traders who ship much of it to China, but the number who can satisfy Beijing’s requirements to separate and clean waste has plunged.

“There used to be guys who would come to our facility probably once a week to buy our plastic to take back to China,” he said. “That has gone down to where I have two vendors who still are able to do business to get it into China.”

In a reflection of more stringent controls, customs data show Chinese imports of waste plastic fell 11.3 percent in the first half of this year compared with a year earlier to 3.5 million tons after soaring over the past decade.

MBA Polymer’s facility in the southern city of Guangzhou, in the heart of China’s manufacturing industry, can process 40,000 tons of plastic a year, according to Biddle. It transforms waste into pellets to be used as raw material for new products. Buyers include Chinese manufacturers that work for companies such as computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co. and consumer electronics giant Philips NV.

Biddle said he welcomes Green Fence despite the disruption of imports because higher standards will favor more responsible companies.

“We’ve had to compete for raw materials with people who treat the materials not in ways that protect workers or the environment,” Biddle said by phone from California. “I see China moving toward encouraging companies like ours to develop.”

Conners said that by raising the cost of dealing with China, Green Fence might make it profitable for more Western companies to conduct the whole recycling process themselves. He said his company is looking at possible ventures to do that with partners.

“The advantage China had has been reduced considerably. That advantage was low-cost processing,” he said. “This is going to spur investment in the United States to process materials here.”

To read the original article:
http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2013-10-03/china-recycling-cleanup-jolts-global-industry