An Evening Recycling Discussion with Waste Management

Emily Keenan
May 29, 2020

We gathered the community on the evening of March 4 at the Fire Department Community Hall for a Waste Loop Community Forum. The turnout was great and the meeting started at 6 PM with a quick intro from Ariahna. 

We had some visitors from Waste Management (WM) - one of them came all the way from Spokane - to educate us as to how their business works and what we should put in the local WM recycling bins. This is what I learned from the WM talk:

Recycling is business. They collect our materials and take them to their facility. They sort the materials using high-tech machines and also hard-working staff. They sell the materials to places that will buy them. If they aren’t taking something, it is because they don’t have a buyer for that thing. They are a big company and they aren’t focused on recycling every different type of thing, but recycling a lot of some of the big things (like paper, aluminum, plastic bottles). WM works hard and processes a lot of recycling, spends a lot of money on research and development, and is one of the biggest American companies in the recycling business. 

Contamination is the enemy. Last year, I heard that “China stopped taking our recycling.” Before that, I hadn’t realized American waste was being shipped across the world. Companies in China were buying recycling from big US recyclers. The Chinese companies never stopped taking recyclables, but they lowered the acceptable contamination rate. The American recyclers were selling a product that was 25% contamination. That’s 25% food waste, trash, bags of dog poo, etc. Waste Management says they were never focused on overseas buyers because they sort their recyclables and sell to local buyers. When a lot of big American recycling was rejected in China, all of that material came back to the United States, flooded the market, and it was tough times for WM as the price of plastic, paper, steel, and aluminum dropped fast. For example, the value of mixed paper went down from $77.50/ton to $5/ton.

We learned a lot about what we can and can’t throw into the WM recycle bins. WM has a page just for the city of Leavenworththat explains it clearly. WM is not a full recycling solution, and they only take certain types of things, but we are glad they are part of the community. 

Paper envelopes with a little bit of plastic? OK

Pizza boxes? Not if they are greasy! Rip off the top if it is not greasy and recycle the clean, throw away the dirty.

Milk cartons? Nope. They are lined in plastic and so are basically half cardboard, half plastic, and there aren’t any buyers around here for that.

Red cups? Nope. Even though they have a recycling symbol with a number on the bottom. There is no buyer for that, and there needs to be someone taking it at the end of the process or else it goes to the landfill.