China recycling shift an opportunity for Minnesota

Contact: Walker Smith, 651-757-2738

China’s recent shift in policy regarding recyclable material has many state and local governments reexamining how they manage a growing influx of plastics, glass, and other recyclables. But here in Minnesota, the situation is not as dire; in 2016, nearly 2.5 million tons of recyclable materials were collected in the state. State and local regulations prohibit material collected for recycling to be put in landfills, and Minnesota is not landfilling recyclables now.

In the past, China and other foreign markets took in about 40 percent of the United States’ recycled material. China is now restricting these imports. Consequently, domestic markets are flooded with materials that can't be sold overseas, and prices haves plummeted. 

U.S. recycling programs can no longer look to foreign countries as major buyers of our recyclables and must develop domestic markets for these materials. Minnesota has an opportunity to be a leader in such markets, as we are seeking to increase the number of businesses that use recycled materials.

Minnesota's public and private sectors have made strategic investments in recycling over the past 30-plus years. Public-sector grants and loans go to companies that use recycled materials to manufacture products. Minnesota facilities that process recycled materials have prioritized state-of-the-art sorting equipment. Focusing on local use of materials in manufacturing wherever possible has created economic development opportunities around the state.

Recycling is not just a feel good thing; it has an economic impact. More than 260 Minnesota companies use recycled materials to manufacture their products. They employ about 18,000 people and generate approximately $3.2 billion in wages and $665 million in federal and local tax revenue. 

Minnesotans wondering about shifting world markets need to stay the course — keep recycling, but recycle right. While Minnesotans do better than most parts of the country at proper recycling, unrecyclable materials in recycling containers is still a huge problem. Recycled materials that are contaminated with trash and the like create inefficiencies and reduce profitability for recycling facilities.

How can you help?

  • Avoid “wish-cycling” — only include materials your hauler will accept in your bin. Don’t just throw it in and assume a processing facility will sort it out!
  • Check with your city, county or waste hauler on which items are acceptable.
  • Don't put plastic bags, garden hoses, toys, syringes, or diapers in your recycling container.  
  • Do not use your recycling bin as a garbage overflow. 

For more recycling tips for residents and businesses, visit the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Recycle More webpage.