The impact of China’s decision to ban imports of recycled materials has reverberated all the way to Janesville.
Losing the massive Chinese market means fewer companies willing to accept used paper and plastic. Vendors such as John’s Disposal in Whitewater, which processes Janesville’s recyclables, have lost value for their recycled products.
“That market (China) takes a lot of resources. When that spigot gets turned off, that means there’s a glut of material on the market,” Operations Director John Whitcomb said. “That trickles down to everybody.”
Whitcomb spoke at Monday’s city council meeting, encouraging residents to be more careful with what they throw into recycling bins.
For example, the city is asking residents to no longer recycle plastic bags. But local retailers such as Target or Festival Foods still do, so people should drop off their leftover bags in bins located at store entrances.
Styrofoam no longer will be accepted. Residents also should break down cardboard boxes and consider buying cans instead of bottles because aluminum has more value than glass, Whitcomb said.
Residents also should rinse out any items that once held food or drink before putting them in the blue-and-gray bins, he said.
With an oversupply of recyclables, companies that buy salvaged paper and plastic can be more selective about where they get their materials, Whitcomb said.
Better recycling habits will help improve the product for John’s Disposal. It helps John’s market Janesville’s recyclables to make sure they get reused rather than winding up in a landfill, he said.
Whitcomb said he hasn’t delved into why China banned recycling imports, but he suspects politics were a factor.
China and the U.S. have been involved in a longstanding trade dispute over many different commodities, leading to retaliatory tariffs between the two nations.
Recycled materials are commodities, too, and their prices can be cyclical. Prices are so low right now that Janesville’s processing costs at John’s Disposal sometimes outweigh the materials’ resale value, Whitcomb said.
But Janesville hasn’t gotten to the point where its vendor has refused to accept certain materials. Conversations with John’s Disposal indicate that it’s “not all gloom and doom” within the recycling industry, he said.
Despite the industry challenges, residents should not shy away from recycling, Whitcomb said. They should just be more thoughtful about which waste products go where.