Too much trash in recycling bins causing problems

Posted at 10:11 PM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-17 00:14:13-05

170 tons per day -- That's the amount Idaho company, Western Recycling, picks up at our curbs. After China changed the rules on what they'll take for recycling, communities across the west are scrambling.

"We probably wouldn't be in this situation with China had we cleaned it up a long time ago," said Rick Gillihan of Western Recycling in Boise.

The East Asian country imposing new restrictions that no longer accepts lower grade plastics labeled 3 through 7 and mixed paper like junk mail. 

It's all to limit trash heading overseas. Rick says on average 15% of the intake that Western Recycling collects off of curbside program is trash.

"China will only allow one half of one percent, and we simply cannot go from 15% down to a half of a percent on a consistent basis," explained Gillihan.

Rick says the new restrictions have left no market for lower grade plastics and strict quality standards for the mixed paper that are hard to meet. 

"Simply because we get too much trash in the recycling containers and we can not remove it all," added Gillihan.

Cities in Ada County, now looking at their options for mixed paper. Boise, for example, thinking of either doing away with paper recycling altogether or raising rates by $2.00. City leaders in Meridian hope to learn from companies before they bring up the issue with the city council. 

"We want to know if there's some mixed paper that can still be recycled. So can we still salvage any of that steam and still allow are residents to recycle that paper," said Kaycee Kaycee Emery, spokeswoman for the city of Meridian. 

But while Republic Services, the company who collects recyclables in southwest Idaho, is telling residents only to recycle higher quality plastics labeled one and two.

Rick says they still see junk plastic end up at their collection sites and more needs to be done to educate the public on what goes in the bins and what doesn't.

"China has just finally put up the fence and said no more," said Gillihan.

Meridian city leaders say they also want to learn more about the company the city of Boise has teamed up to turn plastics into diesel fuel. 

To learn more about what goes into the recycling bins and what doesn't click here.