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Recycling Information

 

Recycling is Here to Stay; System-wide Improvements Are Needed For Long-Term Success

Overview

Recycling markets may be changing, but recycling is not going away. Recent market forces – both locally and globally – have made recycling less profitable for processors, at times causing them to operate at a loss. This webpage is intended to provide information and resources for those wanting to learn more about current conditions and future impacts.

What Can Be Recycled?

  • Paper
  • Flattened cardboard
  • Plastic bottles & containers
  • Glass bottles & jars
  • Metal food & beverage cans
  • Food & beverage cartons
  • Clean aluminum cans and foil

Make sure all containers are empty, rinsed and dry! 

Confused about where to take plastic bags, recyclable batteries, and other items that cannot go in your recycle bin? Click here to search recycling options by item.

Regional Recycling

In August 2018, local recycling processor Resource Management, announced that it would stop taking mixed residential recyclables from several local municipalities with which it contracts. Resource Management had accepted about 45% of residential single stream recycling. This change has the potential to significantly impact regional recycling capacity.

Our region has a diverse mix of recycling companies, so there is well-founded optimism that the recent loss of processing capacity with Resource Management will be overcome and that the local recycling industry will remain strong.

A task force of regional stakeholders and recycling advocates has convened to actively work towards solutions to minimize recycling service disruption in the St. Louis region. The taskforce has convened companies who haul recyclable materials, material recycling facility (MRF) operators, and municipalities to review and propose short-term and long-term strategies to enable the continuation of curbside recycling programs throughout the St. Louis region.

International Recycling Markets

As recycling has become a mainstream service, simplified by the ability to mixed recyclable materials and the availability of widespread curbside collection services, the volume of materials collected has dramatically increased. However, single stream collection comes with a downside - the recycling “stream” can become contaminated with unaccepted items including plastic bags, general trash, and foods and liquids left in recyclable containers. This increase in contamination over time has led international markets to reject many U.S. recyclables, driving down prices and creating uncertainty.

The change that has caused the most disruption and has been well covered in national media has been China’s “National Sword” program that bans 24 types of solid waste, including plastics, unsorted mixed papers, and electronic waste, that went into effect January 1, 2018. The National Sword Policy follows China’s Green Fence, a 10-month policy that set standards for lower contamination levels for recycling. (Source: PRI)

The Midwest has been less impacted by China’s policy on rejecting recycled materials, as regional markets are better established than the West Coast markets that depended much more heavily on easy access to Asian markets. Most of the recyclable materials generated in the St. Louis region (plastic, glass, cartons and metals) are sold domestically, with mixed paper being one of the only exceptions. Mixed papers from residential recycling, such as newspaper, magazines and envelopes, has seen dramatic changes. Recycling centers in China are no longer accepting paper that is even slightly contaminated. There has been difficulty re-routing the paper to different markets. As a result, recycling processors are rethinking and retooling their processes. Still, these changes have made a significant impact on global recycling programs in the short and long term.

While markets are expected to develop to take advantage of rock-bottom rates for recyclable materials in the short term, the recyclables commodities markets will forever be changed. Hopefully, the changes will have a long-lasting and positive impact on global recycling systems as local markets and infrastructure expand, and cleaner materials are demanded to preserve the quality of valuable recyclable commodities. The changes also highlight the critical need to rethink consumption and single-use disposables, and provide a stern reminder to revisit the first 2 R’s: Reducing and Reusing.

Why Recycle?

Recycling conserves natural resources, saves energy, and plays an important role in the global economy.
In 2014, recycling created $906 million in direct payroll/income in recycling, reuse and re-manufacturing jobs in Missouri (Missouri Recycling Economic Information Study).

The recycling industry in Missouri includes 24,819 direct jobs and another 30,068 indirect jobs.  (Missouri Recycling Economic Information Study)

Nationwide, recycling activities in the U.S. accounted for:

  • 757,000 jobs in recycling
  • $36.6 billion in wages
  • $6.7 billion in tax revenue

(Source: EPA 2016)

For every 1,000 tons of material recycled in the U.S. equals 1.57 jobs, $76,000 in wages and $14,101 in tax revenues. (EPA)

Recycling increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials.  (EPA)

Resources

Note: Resources posted on this page have regional relevance. While they may be produced by a specific city or municipality, the information is accurate in virtually all communities across the St. Louis region. We encourage all residents to visit their city’s or municipality’s website or refer to their specific communications for information that will be accurate for your residence.

Regional Recycling Updates:

Presentation from Public Forum 9/19/2018
Poster: What can be recycled? (Download & circulate!)
Press Release: Regional Task Force Tackles Recycling Issues (August 20, 2018)
Regional Database for Hard-to-Recycle Items: http://stlcityrecycles.com/recycle-with-us/database/

Recycling in the News

12/3/2018 - St. Louis Public Radio article on recycling contamination
11/16/2018 - St. Louis Public Radio coverage of America Recycles Day
11/14/2018 - Fox 2 News coverage of American Recycles Day
10/31/2018 - St. Louis Public Radio article on municipal recycling
9/21/2018 - St. Louis Public Radio coverage of the Public Forum
9/19/2019 - Fox 2 News coverage of the Public Forum
9/7/2018 - Kirkwood Reverses Decision to End Curbside Recycling (St. Louis Post Dispatch)
9/2/2018 - Changes to Recycling Pipeline have Cities Across the St. Louis Area Sorting Through Options (St. Louis Post Dispatch