Cost of recycling likely to rise as China gets more selective

Republic Services, the trash hauler for St. Louis and Alma, told St. Louis officials that it may have to change its terms of service in response to more stringent recycling standards in China; the destination for much of what we throw in our recycling bins.

China has gotten more strict about what it will take and how great the food contamination of recyclables can be.

The contamination limit for paper and plastic material was 3 percent but went to 0.5 percent in March.

earth-recyclingIn fact, China has suspended acceptance of paper and cardboard for 30 days, and bales of the stuff are piling up at US recycling operations that suddenly can’t ship the bales to China.

Furthermore, the money that a ton of recyclable paper fetches has fallen from $97.50 in March 2017 to $5 today.

Here’s a link to a comprehensive article out of Portland, Oregon that will give you a good look at what’s happening.


And for a Michigan perspective, try this Livingston Daily article:


Republic Services “would like to have an amendment that has a cost adjustment for these types of industry changes,” said St. Louis City Manager Kurt Giles in an email.

St. Louis and Alma are just about to go into the second year of a five year agreement with Republic Services. “Our customers have been accustomed to curb-side recycling service for some time now so I would hope that could continue,” said Giles in an email. 

Although plastic and metal containers can be rinsed to remove food waste, paper and cardboard that has contained food isn’t recyclable. If you put, for example, pizza boxes in your recycling bin, they will ultimately be landfilled (not recycled) because they are contaminated with food waste.

Plastic shopping bags are another item you shouldn’t put in your recycling bin. To recycle such bags, you should return them to retailers that accept them.

“There is no change in our curbside recycling service at this time,” Giles said. “However, we would like to get the word out about avoiding items that just end up being sorted out later and sent to the landfill.”

Items you should not throw in your recycling bin include batteries, plastic bags, plastic film and wrappers, paper and plastic drink cups, straws and coffee cups, frozen food boxes and trays, to-go food containers, styrofoam, diapers, clothing, shoes and garden hose.

“The other thing I think should be mentioned is that this issue probably won’t get resolved just by Alma and St. Louis customers being or becoming model recycling customers,” Giles said. “But it does have to start somewhere.”

Giles expects that the Gratiot Area Solid Waste Authority will receive a proposal with potential options from Republic.

A recycling presentation pdf file from Republic Services says “the decades old recycling model is no longer executable or viable,” and a price increase is needed.

Working Together

The Gratiot Area Solid Waste Authority was formed in 2008 and is a good example of Alma and St. Louis combining services.


“We believe there are economies of scale achieved by contracting for these services together,” Giles said. “It saves overall time and effort in preparing one bid specification for services, and we believe it’s more attractive to the bidders to have both communities in one contract.”

The two cities also recently combined their water systems.

Might more services be combined in the future?

Possibly,” said Giles. “We have had discussions about a wide range of options from time to time. Not much recent discussion though.”



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