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Recycling Changes in Material Accepted for Recycling in Tompkins County
A Message from Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management

July 13, 2018

There has been a great deal of attention in the national media of late on changes in recycling markets, and how those changes impact the collection and processing of recyclable materials. We at the Tompkins County Department of Recycling and Materials Management would like to take a moment to offer a brief explanation and outline the changes taking place locally.

Recycling markets are volatile by nature and this has been one of the more turbulent stretches in recent history. Opinions differ on whether China's new import policies will last, or how bad the effects will be. By now it's become clear those effects are spreading across the country in varying degrees.

In the summer of 2017, China formally announced its import restriction intentions in a notice to the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the ban went into force at the start of 2018. The reason for this action was excessive contamination of recycling loads shipped from the United States. Evidence showed that in some cases the single-stream recycling contamination rate exceeded 15% over the past 5 years due in large part to single-stream recycling in large toters from residents. Contamination included garbage, plastic bags, food debris, unacceptable plastics and waxed cardboard. Although Tompkins County's contamination rate remains among the lowest, these new restrictions are still applicable.

In addition, the prices for all materials have dropped over 50%. Currently mixed residential paper has a zero value. Our contracted partner, Casella Recycling, has done a tremendous job in shipping all of our materials domestically despite significant price drops. Due to limited or no market outlets for certain plastics, we have no choice but to remove them from our list of acceptable materials.

For at least the next year, we will limit acceptable plastic bottles and containers to # 1,2 and 5 as well as remove rigid plastics from the single-stream mix. Rigid plastics are acceptable only if brought directly to the Recycling and Solid Waste Center in Ithaca. These include:

Plastic Baskets Plastic Buckets (Clean) Plastic Garbage Cans or Recycling Carts (Wheels and axles removed)

  • Coroplast Campaign Election Signs (Metal removed)
  • Plastic Crates
  • Plastic Drums & Totes (Cut in half)
  • Plastic Lawn Furniture
  • Plastic Pet Carriers (Metal removed)
  • Plastic Shelving
  • Plastic Bottles from Water Coolers

Plastic bags have never been accepted at the curb, but can be brought to the RSWC. The list of acceptable plastic bags and films include: Flexible 6-pack rings Plastic grocery bags (Clean and dry)

  • Plastic retail bags (Clean, dry, and string ties removed)
  • Plastic newspaper bags
  • Plastic dry-cleaning bags
  • Plastic wrap from paper products (Paper towels, toilet paper, etc)
  • Plastic wrap from beverage products (Water bottles, sports drinks, etc)
  • Plastic pallet wrap Plastic air pillows found inside shipping packages (Air removed)

We anticipate that the recycling revenue will be substantially less for about 18 months. The good news is that investors in the U.S. and Canada are working with processors to create domestic markets. But this will take a few years to develop.

In the meantime, the message is clear - we need to ‘clean the stream’ and ‘recycle right.’ That means clean your recyclables before putting them in your curbside bin or at the public drop-off of the Recycling and Solid Waste Center – all jars, plastics, tin foil, etc. must be at least rinsed out so no food residue is left behind. This also goes for paper and cardboard.

Our Department recently published a new curbside recycling guidelines brochure and schedule, and is working on additional printed material on the acceptable rigid plastics and single-use film bags that can be brought to the RSWC. Also, display boards will be posted at the public drop off area to help residents identify items that are allowed.

We wish to thank you in advance for doing your part to ensure Tompkins County’s recycled items continue to meet the standards required for the commodities market. As always, feel free to contact the TCRMM office with any questions at (607) 273-6632.

Barbara Eckstrom, Director
Geoff Dunn, Communication and Administrative Coordinator
Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management
122 Commercial Avenue
Ithaca, NY 14850