China's tough new policies forcing US recycling companies to make big changes

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Where is your recycling going? For years, those paper and plastic materials were shipped off to China. Tough new standards has the country closing its doors on trash from the United States.

This is a major issue a lot of people may not know about. Consider this, at one point China took in more than half of the world's scrap paper and the country was also a major spot for other recyclable materials. Now many recycling companies, including those right here in central Ohio, have been forced to adjust.

Recycling takes just a bit of extra effort, but for Olentangy high school teacher Julie Effler, who heads up the schools recycling club, it's certainly worth it. She told ABC 6 that her students agree.

"We've been doing it for about six years here. We've had support from the administration and about 30 kids help out every year doing all the recycling here. It's so important to have them feel like they're making a difference here," said Effler.

For a large portion of central Ohio, those recyclables end up at the Rumpke facility in Columbus.

"Every day we are processing and recovering close to a million pounds of stuff," said Jonathan Kissell with Rumpke.

For a large number of years those materials were shipped off to China to be turned into other goods. Consider this, in 2016 alone China processed at least half of the world's exports of plastic, paper, and metals. The United States exported 16 million tons of waste to China that year. Britain sent China enough garbage to fill up 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to a Reuters report.

However, as Kissell explained, a shift in policy is changing all of that.

"China has imposed some new purity standards and strict specifications that restricts the material that's coming into them," said Kissell.

Rumpke jumped on the issue early. ABC 6 was the first local station to get an inside look at some of the changes Rumpke has put into place. They've slowed down the process at plants and added to the labor force to ensure additional quality control. They also invested in advanced sorting equipment, costing the company millions of dollars. The idea is to not only to fall within China's new cleaner guidelines, but to also develop new international buyers.

"We've been able to make the most of all the recyclables that residents are sending to us," Kissell told ABC 6.

The purity standards put in place by China are so extreme that many recyclers had to stop exports to the country. In some instances the materials are sent to a landfill. Company officials at Rumpke told us that they have not sent any recyclables to a landfill.

"Our goal that we strive for is to get the material in the door and out the door same day," said Kissell.

That comes as a major relief to Effler as she helps to motivate her students to do their part to provide a better tomorrow for the environment.

"We're hoping that when they graduate here, go off to a job or college that they can feel like they have bigger ideas to make the world a better place and more sustainable," said Effler.

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