The impacts of China’s “Green Fence” policy have been felt across the United States since it went into effect in March and Eagle County is no exception.
China has been a large buyer of recyclable materials from the United States, such as plastic, metals and electronics, and the new policy sets restrictions on the quality of material the country will accept.
“Right now, they’re rejecting recyclables that aren’t clean, especially No. 3-7 plastics,” said Eagle County Director of Solid Waste and Recycling Ken Whitehead. “As a consequence, we’re stockpiling bales of those plastics at our landfill. Fortunately we have sufficient space to do that but the longer it sits outside in the weather, the more it degrades and the less likely we’ll be able to sell it in the future. Without China as an end-market, there is nowhere to send it.”
Whitehead said there are currently about 30 bales of low-grade plastics in the stockpile.
American Metal Market (amm.com) reports that China’s policy was originally scheduled to end Nov. 1 but is now anticipated to continue indefinitely.
“It’s a wait and see situation,” Whitehead said. “This incidentally supports the county’s recent decision to stick with dual-stream recycling.”
Eagle County’s dual-stream recycling facility differs from single-stream recycling in that it keeps the materials more separated. Consequently, materials from dual-stream facilities tend to have less contamination and are able to fetch higher prices on the market. Dual-stream is less convenient for people to use, however, and the county’s material recovery facility (MRF) is losing business because of increased demand for single-stream services, which truck the material to sorting facilities on the Front Range. Eagle County commissioners recently decided to stick with the dual-stream MRF rather than spend several million dollars to convert it to single stream.
“Dual stream has always been in demand when it comes to selling it on the market,” Whitehead said.
Speaking of ample space at the landfill, Eagle County commissioners approved a special use permit Oct. 15 that will allow vertical expansion at the facility.
“Vertical expansion is a really good outcome for the county because it gets us 10 more years of capacity,” Whitehead said. “Because of initiatives like this, Eagle County has the lowest tipping fees than any of the surrounding counties. It’s $39 per ton here and $40 to $55 at other landfills.”
As far as the Green Fence policy is concerned, Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability President Kim Langmaid said people should still do their best to divert material from the landfill.
“People should continue recycling,” she said.