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Adjustments to Regional Recycling Market

May 4, 2018 - Recyclables collected from curbside bins by the City's contractor, Republic Services, are processed and sorted near downtown Seattle at its Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Like many other cities along the West Coast, the Seattle region ships the material to China for remanufacturing.

Unfortunately, due to excessive contamination introduced by non-US recyclers, China announced a new National Sword policy last summer that dramatically lowers the acceptable percentage of prohibited items to 0.5 percent. In the last few weeks, China's Blue Sky initiative closed its ports to mixed paper while the government can establish these stricter quality standards.

Since China's factories accept 50 percent of the world's recycling, it has been difficult for the rest of the world's factories to absorb what China used to handle, and the story has been covered extensively in the national and local media.

In attempt to comply with the tighter standards, Republic Services has significantly slowed its processing line in Seattle, added more people to the sorting teams, upgraded its equipment to become the most advanced facility in the region, and sought out non-Chinese markets for mixed paper.

Due to these current circumstances, the City recently issued a 180-day temporary variance (effective March 13, 2018), as allowed in the contract, that permits Republic to landfill unmarketable paper, when all other options and venues are exhausted. The cities of Bellevue and Sammamish also allowed temporary variances.

How you can help
Mercer Island residents rank at the top of King County's cities in diversion rate (65 percent). Republic Services asks that Islanders keep recycling the way they currently do, with an emphasis on making sure items are EMPTY, CLEAN, and DRY. And, if you happen to see a recycling bin with the lid open, please close it.  

Learn more about the City's Recycling, Garbage, and Compost programs


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