Jefferson County recycling policy to change after China rejects material

PORT TOWNSEND — County residents have been accustomed to dutifully separating their recyclable materials into paper, plastics and glass for years, but that will change in the near future.

The items now are destined to end up in a landfill.

China has suspended all imports of recyclable materials, Tom Boatman, the county’s solid waste manager, and Monte Reinders, county public works director, told the told Jefferson County commissioners Monday.

China is the final destination for most of the West Coast’s materials.

Jefferson County Public Works’ Solid Waste Advisory Committee will meet from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. June 28 at the Tri-County Community Center, 10 West Valley Road in Chimacum, to discuss possible changes to the county recycling program.

The public is invited to attend.

“Statewide, we are experiencing more of a crunch than other states because of our proximity to the ocean-going transportation to China,” Boatman said.

“We’ve lost at least 56 percent of the number of markets that are available to receive our recyclables.”

Boatman said that one of the issues is that recycled products are being cross-contaminated because of the way they are collected and China won’t accept them.

For now, some recyclables will end up in landfills.

“D.C. and the state will provide waivers to let the different recyclable organizations send their stuff to the landfills because they’ve stockpiled all this product and it can’t be held anymore,” Boatman said.

“We knew this was happening, but it really hasn’t come to the point of having to do something about it. We got the final word from China that there will be no markets available for the rest of this year. So we are shut out.”

In Jefferson County, vendor Skookum has reported that 35 percent of recyclables consisting of mixed paper, plastics and cans they collect have zero value. And they will have zero value as far as they can see in the future.

According to reports, Skookum is losing $15,000 a month, as part of their revenue stream is selling their recyclables.

“Now they can’t even sell it, let alone get rid of it,” Reinders said.

“The implication for our citizens is the work we’ve gone through to teach them how to recycle and encourage recycling. How are we going to address this?” Commissioner Kathleen Kler asked.

“Right now, people can put into their recycling bin whatever is allowed in there. But they should be aware that it isn’t going to be recycled,” Boatman said.

Cardboard presents a special bright opportunity for Jefferson County because of Port Townsend Paper. It represents a quarter of all of the county’s recyclables and it doesn’t have to be trucked very far.

“It’s all in a state of flux, Boatman said.

”Changes are coming, they are coming fast, Boatman said. “None of this is the fault of the city or the county. China just decides to shut off something that’s been working for decades. It’s with no warning.

“The important thing to remember is there are changes coming and we’re still determining what they are.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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