Have you ever wondered where our recyclables end up? Until the first of January 2018, the answer by and large was China. Nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of recyclables left U.S. ports EVERY DAY. And those same ships returned to the U.S. filled with consumer products made in China.
In 2017, China announced their ‘National Sword’ policy as part of a larger Green initiative to lower pollution levels. The new policy, effective January 1, 2018, bans 24 types of solid waste including certain plastics and unsorted mixed papers.
Since we’re a printing company, we’re mostly interested in what China’s been doing with all that paper. The answer is, they’ve been cleaning it and sending it back to the U.S. as paper pulp that is then turned back into graphic paper and cardboard.
U.S. mills are not set up for processing unsorted mixed paper and recyclers are scrambling to find other markets to partner with including Malaysia, India, Vietnam, and South Korea. None of those countries is interested in the same level of import, creating a global supply-demand imbalance which has driven down prices to recyclers – plummeting to $5 from $97.50 a ton in recent months.
Part of the problem is the contamination levels of this waste – including the grease on pizza boxes and food and chemical residue left in bottles (note to self – rinse and dry those bottles and cans before putting them in recycling!). Recycling facilities in the U.S. sort through recyclables to eliminate as much contamination as possible, but the level they can achieve is no longer acceptable. And so, this waste is piling up with nowhere to go.
What does this mean for us? With less paper pulp coming from recycled waste, we are anticipating both a paper shortage and an increase in the price of paper. We are working with our suppliers to make sure we have enough paper on hand and they, in turn, have asked us to help them by anticipating our paper needs and putting requests in as far in advance as possible. As your printing partner, we’ll be doing all we can to minimize impacts by working with you to plan your projects with an eye to availability and price. We’ll keep you posted as the situation unfolds!