State bill could relax California recycling requirements due to China impact
- A bill progressing through the California State Senate, AB 3178, could alter the state's recycling objectives in the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 due to negative effects from China's new National Sword policy. The existing law requires each jurisdiction to reduce 50% of its landfill waste through reduction, recycling and composting.
- A new bill amendment would require the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) to evaluate each jurisdiction's good faith effort to meet that requirement, with China's market impact in mind. CalRecycle would be asked to factor in efforts to reduce contamination and improve quality, whether circumstances were beyond a jurisdiction's "reasonable control" and whether temporary disposal was necessary to avoid a public health threat.
- The bill has widespread backing from those in the waste and recycling industries, as evidenced in a support letter the Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Committee sent to the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality. The Senate's bill analysis also lists more than five dozen other cities, businesses or waste authorities that support the measure, and no dissenters.
China's efforts to clean up its environment through a recyclable materials import ban and a tightening of contamination standards continue to have enormous effects on the global recycling industry, especially in the United States. States in the Western portion of the country have been particularly hard hit because their closer proximity to China allowed them to more easily ship baled recyclables there.
While some municipalities are dealing with seemingly short-term scenarios like material stockpiles, eliminating items from the recycling stream or temporarily suspending entire recycling programs, others such as Florida — and now California — are tackling the problem through longer lasting legislative measures. Currently, CalRecycle has limited authority over this area aside from guidance on safe material storage.
While the legislative amendment reports California as a whole exported more than 60% of its recyclable materials to China in 2016, the rate is even higher in some cities. San Diego, for example, reportedly ships about 80% of its recyclables overseas, most of which goes to China. Dozens, if not hundreds, of municipalities throughout the state are in the same boat.
The legislation points out that California and the rest of the United States had relied so heavily on shipping recyclables to China that it has not adequately invested in processing infrastructure domestically. It also notes that while some other Southeast Asian countries had been accepting more materials following China's crackdown, they too are instating import restrictions both for environmental reasons and because they don't have nearly the same capacity as China to keep up with demand.
California's legislation aims to ease the widespread burden of market loss due to National Sword with one fell swoop instead of municipalities and businesses continuing to struggle without direction. It essentially admits a fact that many in the industry still are in denial about: China's regulations are not going away, and the industry therefore must adapt.
- California State Legislature AB 3178
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