Recycling revamp: New rules for what you can recycle in Pierce County

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. -- Renew, reuse and recycle is getting a revamp in Pierce County.

“We think this is the right time to make the change,” says Sheryl Rhinehart with Pierce County Planning and Public Works.

The county says cartons, shredded paper, and plant pots are no longer accepted in the recycling program. And this impacts everyone in the county except Tacoma, Ruston, Auburn, and Pacific.

“In 2017, China banned the import of most categories of recyclables,” says Rhinehart.

For decades, China would ship goods to the U.S. And the U.S. would use the empty ships to send China recycling. China would use that recycling to make new products, which they’d ship back to the U.S.

The cycle of recycling.

Until, China became concerned about the quality of the recyclables; too much cardboard or mixed paper, or worse, just straight up garbage. In 2017, China announced new regulations.

“They were doing that in an effort to clean up their environment,” says Rhinehart.

Which is why Pierce County says now is the time to make some changes on a local level.

“We’ve been following the issue for a while and we just felt like the timing was right,” says Rhinehart.

So, depending on where you live in Pierce County, your milk and juice cartons will now go in the regular trash.

“It isn’t that they are not recyclable, it’s that in the Pacific Northwest we just don’t have access to remanufacturers who want that specific material. It was very inexpensive to load

recyclables in a shipping container and send them overseas. It was less expensive than putting recyclables on a truck and sending them to Portland. We wanted to make sure that our recycling program is collecting material that is recycled into something new. That is the point of recycling, is that the product becomes something new. And it shouldn’t just be a second garbage can,” says Rhinehart.

Again - this impacts all of Pierce County, expect Tacoma, Ruston, Auburn, and Pacific. Pierce County says you can still recycle cardboard, mixed paper, metal and aluminum, and plastic bottles, tubs, jugs or buckets. The county encourages people to bring their documents to shred events and find ways to reuse plant pots.

The county says there is no enforcement, as garbage and recycling is not mandatory, but the county says they encourage everyone to get on board and do the right thing.

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