Going Nowhere fast: China policies slowing recycling in Columbus

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s a mantra many Americans try to follow, but a recent change in China is making it more expensive to recycle, and some communities are stopping service altogether. 

Rumpke has been in the business of recycling for decades, but the last year for the company things have been getting dirty. Since China stopped accepting certain kinds of recyclables from the U.S .and other countries, it’s put the industry into chaos.

“It has had a major impact on our whole industry,” Steve Sargent the Director of Recycling at Rumpke said. “Today recyclables are at a nine-year low in the valuation of the material we pick up at the curb.” 

Here in central Ohio, the situation is not as bad as other areas. Ninety-five percent of items recycled at Rumpke in Columbus are recycled and reused in the midwest. According to Sargent, if an aluminum can is recycled in Columbus it will take about six weeks for it to be processed and made into a new can, then it will likely be used again in the same region.

Other areas are not so lucky.

“Oregon as an example they are having to get waivers from the government, they have processed recycling and there is no home for it, so it goes into a landfill,” Sargent said. 

Rumpke has had to make changes, they have slowed processing lines about 20 percent, and invested in new million dollar equipment to improve purity.

“We have got to focus on quality now our message, has to be clear,” Sargent said. 

At Rumpke, while the importance of product purity has increased, the amount of contamination has also increased.

“We have seen it, in some areas increase more than 100 percent,” Sargent said.

Contaminated products that are thrown away to be recycled but not acceptable, like garden hoses, lithium batteries and plastic bags. 

Lithium batteries are particularly dangerous because they can explode and cause fires at processing plants. 

Despite the evolving industry, Rumpke still moves about 50 tons of recyclables a month. They say they are ready to shift with market demands as the value of recycling increases or decreases,

“It is costing us a little bit more but it will be worth it in the long run,” Sargent said.

You can help Rumpke in their new mission by only recycling acceptable items:

  • Glass bottles and Jars
  • Metal Cans, Aluminum Cans, steel cans
  • Plastic bottles and jugs
  • Mixed paper
  • Boxes free of food debris and grease
  • Glass Bottles & Jars (all colors)

The company has seen a surge in the following items that are NOT acceptable. 

  • Plastic Bags
  • Yogurt Containers
  • Wire Hangers and cords
  • Fast Food containers 

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