PITTSFIELD — Driven in large part by China’s increasingly strict criteria for the quality of imported recycled material, residents of the four towns who use Pittsfield’s Solid Waste Facility should expect big changes to the way they sort their recyclables in 2019.
Beginning in 2019 as part of a new policy dubbed “Clean in the Recycle Stream,” the B.C.E.P. (Barnstead, Chichester, Epsom, Pittsfield) Solid Waste Facility will only accept No. 1 and No. 2 plastic containers
No. 1 plastic is typically used for soda and other single serving beverage containers, while No. 2 tends to be used for things like milk jugs and laundry detergent.
Additionally, BCEP will also be instituting new guidelines for contamination of all recyclables — mandating that every container be rinsed clean of all residue from food or other substances.
B.C.E.P. district administrator Lisa Stevens says the new policies can be traced back to big changes in the global recycling market.
“The brokers and the buyers who purchase these materials are really cracking down on quality,” said Stevens. “We’re just trying to up our game because revenues from our sale of recycled goods offsets a big chunk of the taxes people in the four towns pay. We’re really trying to see how we can make and sell a better product for a better price.”
According to Stevens, a pound of No. 1 and No. 2 plastic will fetch 39 to 40 cents on the open market, while a mix of No. 1 — No. 7 plastic is only valued at about 3 cents per pound.
At the root of these economic shakeups is China, which purchases 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste.
Beginning in early 2018, the Chinese government began what it called the “National Sword Policy,” an environmental initiative which, among other things, banned various plastics and set rigorous limits on acceptable levels of food and other waste contamination.
Mike Durfor, the executive director of Northeast Resource Recovery in Epsom, says these changes stem from an environmental awakening among the Chinese people.
“Close to 60 percent of their water is undrinkable, 20 percent of their land is unfit for farming and you can only go outside without a mask in about a quarter of their cities, “ said Durfor of China. “China has an up and coming middle class and they’re starting to realize these environmental conditions aren’t good for their kids. Basically the Chinese government is afraid their population is going to revolt.”
Noting that the 26-year-old B.C.E.P. facility can easily see as many as 300 to 500 carloads of recycled goods on busy days, Stevens says she’s confident that area residents who recycle will continue to do so because of their commitment to the practice.
“For a lot of the folks that recycle, it’s a philosophical thing,” she said. “They want to follow the guidelines, so they’re going to recycle no matter what. There may be a little push back in the beginning, but overall it’s not that much of an extra step.