How China’s ban on plastic, paper waste impacts Seattle recycling

Mar 28, 2019, 5:53 AM
seattle recycling...
Plastic lines the beach in Tauranga, New Zealand in 2011. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell)
(AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell)

You’ve likely read that China has stopped accepting America’s recycled plastic and paper, and so the question becomes: Is recycling dead?

Not in Seattle.

“Recycling is not dead. It’s well good and alive, but it’s definitely a different day,” outreach planner for Seattle Public Utilities Becca Fong told Seattle’s Morning News. “The material is going to domestic markets; it really depends on the commodity. The two things that were really impacted by China’s ban were mixed paper and mixed plastic.”

Fong says mixed paper is a combination of all forms of paper smashed together, and China used to take all of it. Now to make it a more available commodity, sorting facilities are separating out magazines from office paper and cardboard, resulting in cleaner individual streams. Plastics are being further separated as well.

RELATED: How conservatives are environmentalists in their own way

According to National Geographic, China previously took in 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports, but announced last year it could accept no more due to local environmental concern. The announcement also was a reminder that much of the plastic we put in the bin was actually being sent across the ocean because it was cheaper to do so.

As a result of the China ban, some of the local plastics are being sent to a secondary sorting facility in British Columbia, which will further sort out the piles of plastic and turn it into pellets.

“Then it’s easier to sell that raw material, because those pellets are easier to sell to somebody who’s going to make new plastic pop bottles or various items,” Fong said.

RELATED: Snohomish City Council passes plastic bag ban

With the additional sorting of individual plastic and paper, is this new system cost-efficient and environmentally sound?

“Absolutely it is. The thing about plastics is that they’re made from petroleum, so that’s pumped out of the ground, and then it’s transported and brought to manufacturing facilities to make new things,” she said. “When you recycle plastic instead, you shortcut that process, so the petroleum doesn’t have to be pulled from the ground.”

“So even though there is more sorting and there’s more transportation, it is less energy-intensive to use a recycled product.”

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

voting rights...
Dave Ross

Ross: It’s time to start working on a plan B to protect voting rights

Everyone who is passionate about protecting voting rights, start working on plan B now. Use that anger to show voters how to comply with repressive laws.
15 hours ago
Inslee, swear...
Dave Ross

Ross: Let them swear they will tell nothing but the truth

My daughter heard yesterday’s commentary about Inslee’s proposed law to discourage candidates from lying about elections, and came up with an alternative.
2 days ago
health care workers, hospital...
MyNorthwest Staff

Mercer Island MD: New guidelines for health workers could expose ‘vulnerable people’

Dr. Gordon Cohen, Mercer Island MD, comments on the new guidelines from the CDC that allow COVID-positive health care workers to return to work.
3 days ago
emergency powers...
Dave Ross

Ross: Gov. Inslee’s bill to punish lying politicians may be asking for trouble

A growing number of reasonable people are questioning Governor Inslee’s bill (Senate Bill 5843) to punish lying politicians.
3 days ago
MyNorthwest Staff

UW Virology head: Not yet to the peak of omicron in Washington state

In Washington state, at least in the local population that UW Medicine is caring for, it's not yet safe to say that omicron has peaked.
5 days ago
vaccine mandates...
MyNorthwest Staff

Former state AG: OSHA’s COVID vaccine mandate was too broad

Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna provides insight into the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates.
6 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
How China’s ban on plastic, paper waste impacts Seattle recycling