TWIN FALLS — Lower contamination thresholds in China has made it impossible to recycle many plastics from Twin Falls.
At the end of 2017, PSI Environmental Services — the city’s garbage and recycling contractor — stopped accepting plastic containers with the recycling numbers 3-7. The change came just before new regulations in China took effect this year.
About 60 percent of recyclable materials in the western U.S. is sent to China, PSI Manager Jeff Brewster said. But now, there’s simply no market for plastics with high levels of contamination — such as containers for sour cream, margarine and cream cheese.
China’s new regulations mean there can be only 0.5 percent contamination in recyclable plastics, compared to the previous 1.5 percent contamination limit.
“They went from very challenging to almost impossible,” Brewster said.
PSI still accepts No. 1 and No. 2 plastics — essentially all plastic bottles. What isn’t accepted, generally, is anything with an opening that’s wider than the base.
Some companies won’t recycle plastic anymore because of the cost.
“We don’t even want plastic right now because of the market,” said Bobby Moore, assistant manager for Pacific Steel & Recycling in Twin Falls.
Magic Valley Recycling also recently changed its policies to accept only No. 1 and No. 2 plastics — bottles only.
PSI Environmental offers biweekly recycling pickup for residents in Twin Falls and just outside the city limits. The company can recycle the following items: cardboard, clean paper, newspaper, aluminum cans, tin cans and plastics Nos. 1 and 2.
Sadly, not everyone follows the rules. A lot of unacceptable items — plastics with numbers 3-7, leaves, trash and dirt — still end up in the load that’s shipped off to a Boise recycling center, Brewster said. While there, it’s sorted — and anything contaminated or unacceptable then gets thrown away.
“When we’re putting that in there, we’re paying to ship it and it ends up in a landfill anyway,” Brewster said.
And Twin Falls residents foot the bill. All residents pay for PSI’s recycling services whether they use it or not. Recycling for the past couple of years in Twin Falls has been an unprofitable and costly enterprise for the company and the city.
It costs PSI $100 a ton to recycle (versus $34 per ton to put in the landfill). That cost goes up even higher when PSI is fined for contaminated recyclables.