Without China, who will take our recycling?

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China’s new recycling policies have upended recycling programs all around the country and here in LA. During the first quarter of 2017, California exported 54,000 tons of mixed plastics. In the first quarter of 2018, after the China ban and contamination standard went into effect, California only exported 5,000 tons of mixed plastics.

This drastic change raises questions about the short and long term future of recycling in California and LA.

We talked to recycling experts about how to move forward.


“I’ve been in recycling for more than 25 years. This has definitely caused more disruption than anything I’ve ever seen and I know that it will cause disruption for years to come… In some parts of the country it is devastating and in other parts of the country they are far less affected by it. It is different commodity type by commodity type.”

— Susan Collins, President of the Container Recycling Institute, based out of Culver City


“I think the most important thing that’s needed right now is for a little less burying our heads in the sand and a little more transparency about what’s really happening to the materials. The municipalities and the waste collectors and recycling collectors are coming to grips with this issue and it’s really sinking in that it’s real and it’s here to stay.

— Susan Collins, President of the Container Recycling Institute, based out of Culver City

“California is going to have to start looking upstream to determine which materials are coming to California and how we should handle material that don’t have markets, like global manufacturers still selling products in California that can’t be recycled and processed into new products.”

– Lance Klug , spokesperson with CalRecycle, which runs the state’s recycle program

“We’ve been incredibly reliant on China for taking the lion’s share of the recyclable materials…And if anything this new policy is spurring us to develop more local markets. And one of the ways we’re doing that is a program that we’ve done for many years, that we’re working to expand. It’s called our recycling market development zone program throughout the unincorporated areas in the county as well as 19 cities. We provide low interest loans for businesses that want to either be in the business of recycling materials or to use recycled products or somehow contribute to the recycling chain.” “

— Coby Skye, Principal engineer at LA County’s Public Works Department, which runs the County’s recycling program

It’s on us

“I don’t know if markets will develop and I know that our best option is and always has been to reduce that material as much as possible. So if I can buy produce that doesn’t come containerized I will. But we also need collective action. We do in some cases need to legislate or at least have agreements with corporations to reduce their packaging.”

– Susan Collins, President of the Container Recycling Institute, based out of Culver City

Read more about what you can and can’t recycle.