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Chinese policy trickles down to Stanly

New international policies are affecting local recycling costs.

By the end of July, every municipality that offers curbside recycling in Stanly County will dish out more than ever for such services, officials report.

“Quite frankly, it’s because of what’s going on abroad,” said Marilyn Wells, head of Community and Municipal Relations for Waste Management.

Their company handles curbside recycling for each of Stanly’s eight municipal collection programs — Albemarle, Locust, Misenheimer, New London, Oakboro, Red Cross, Richfield and Stanfield.

And while the supply of recycled materials coming out of the region is good, the demand for that has weakened.

“Less is able to be sold abroad right now,” Wells explained.

That is largely because of a policy change in China, she detailed. Late last year, the massive country — which consumes six percent of U.S. recyclables — decided it will not accept anything with a contamination rate higher than 0.5 percent.

“When you have a Coca-Cola bottle in a recycling bin and it pops open and gets syrup and sugar over other materials, that’s contamination,” Wells said. “A (0.5 percent contamination rate) essentially means next to no contamination so less is able to be sold abroad.”

The sudden inability to sell a sizable chunk of their goods hit major U.S. recycling companies hard.

Not long after China’s policy change, ReCommunity — a major processor of recycled materials in the Charlotte region —  announced it would no longer accept materials outside of Charlotte itself.

This in turn left Sonoco — the Salisbury company  distributing Waste Managements recyclables at the time — with more than they could process, as well, and they stopped accepting materials outside their area, too.

“So we had to make a different arrangement that involved carrying (recyclables) a much farther distance,” Wells said.

With no other regional company willing to take their materials, Waste Management is now using a bay at one of it’s warehouses to store and then transport recycleables to Winston-Salem, Wells detailed.

“The good news is, it’s all still being recycled,” Wells said.

But with the increase in mileage comes an increase in expenses. And as budget season rolls around, that’s starting to trickle down to Stanly.

Annual collection expenses across the county are expected to go up as much as 12 percent by July, municipal staff report. Albemarle’s $1.25 million contract  is slated to go up about $150,000. Locust’s $213,000 contract is slated to go up about $26,000. Misenheimer, New London and Richfield — which jointly contract with Waste Management — will likely see a 14 percent spike to their recycling costs alone.

“It’s going up significantly,” said Locust’s City Administrator Cesar Correa.

Locust switched it’s recycling services to Waste Management last year, councilors noted. Albemarle and Stanfield started their programs with Waste Management the past three years.

But with what’s happening abroad, no one seemed to think there would be a better option. Every municipality plans to continue curbside recycling with Waste Management. In addition, most plan to absorb the additional expense rather than pass it onto residents.

“It’s not a program we’d want to give up,” said Albemarle Councilor Martha Sue Hall.