Waste Wise | China’s National Sword

By Tera Grady –

In 2017, China implemented its National Sword initiative, which has drastically reduced the amount of contamination permitted in recyclables sent to China. This change has brought about some impacts on Cariboo Regional District residents that you should know about.

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These changes have been minor, since all the curbside and the majority of the depot recycling services available in the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) are funded by Recycle BC. However, many other jurisdictions in BC are not partnered with Recycle BC and are struggling to find markets for their recyclables because of the initiative.

The National Sword initiative has affected Recycle BC’s mixed paper – including paper, boxboard, newspaper, and cardboard recyclables – as these items have historically been sent to China. All Recycle BC’s plastic, metal, and glass is recycled domestically in British Columbia, Canada, or North America. Cartons are recycled in South Korea and foam packaging is recycled in BC and other international markets.

To date, Recycle BC’s mixed paper recyclables are still being accepted by China, but there are some adjustments that need to be made to the list of acceptable materials for this to continue.

Recycle BC has just announced that paper bags lined with plastic or containing plastic windows will no longer be accepted in curbside or depot collection services. These items include some dog food bags, tortilla chip bags, bread bags, etc. Please discontinue recycling these items so that the rest of the fiber materials can continue to be accepted for recycling.

The number one item of contamination in the fiber-recycling stream is plastic bags. Do not dispose of plastic bags in your curbside recycling. If you are in the habit of shredding paper and containing it in a plastic bag before it goes into your curbside tote, you can continue to do this, but please consider using a paper bag or cardboard box to contain the shredded paper instead.

Curbside collected recyclables are separated into different material types in the Lower Mainland, and there are a number of things that make this separation difficult. The first is plastic bags. If other recyclables are tied up inside plastic bags, they cannot be separated into different types. Loose plastic bags wrap around the gears and belts in the sorting facility and cause down time to remove them. Paper and paper fiber recyclables are often separated from other recyclables with blasts of air. Plastic bags are also captured by these blasts of air, causing them to contaminate the fiber stream.

The second thing that makes separation difficult is when recyclables are bundled together. If you jam a tin can inside a plastic container and then stuff them into a cardboard box, none of the items can be separated at the sorting facility, especially after they have been compacted in the collection truck, and then bailed at a processing facility. Please place your recyclables loose in the curbside totes.

A third item is glass containers. Glass can be recycled at a depot, but never in your curbside totes. Glass breaks apart and the shards imbed in the other types of recyclables, which means it cannot be separated from the other items, especially the fibers. Glass is also dangerous for workers at the processing and sorting facilities.

Learn more by following us on Facebook at facebook.com/caribooregion, visiting us online at cariboord.ca, or looking for our Waste Wise articles in your local paper. For more information on the Waste Wise Program, call (250) 398-7929. You can also find more details on Waste Wise activities and events at ccconserv.org.

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