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Bulloch not taking recyclable plastics
China tariffs and pollution policies cause backup

Bulloch County recycling centers have suspended taking plastics for recycling due to China’s ban on accepting such items and tariffs. It is possible that other recyclables could be affected as well.

China, which is where most of the United States’ recyclable material is shipped, recently imposed a ban on a number of items, including plastics and paper, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.

We have been informed by our current plastics recovery vendor that they are no longer accepting our materials. Many tons remain uncollected at the processing center.
Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch

The effect is global, according to the New York Times.

In a recent article, the Times cited China’s new “broad antipollution campaign” and imposition of tariffs in retaliation for tariffs placed by the United States as reasons the country “no longer wanted to import foreign garbage.”

Couch said his office has been inundated with calls from Bulloch County residents wanting an explanation.

W Tom Couch
Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch

“We have been informed by our current plastics recovery vendor that they are no longer accepting our materials,” he said. “Many tons remain uncollected at the processing center.”

Johnny Martin, solid waste superintendent for Bulloch County, said there are 111 million tons of plastics in the country that are in limbo, with recycling businesses scrambling for solutions. 

“We have some plastic at our transfer station I’ve had for a year,” he said.

Couch said “Recent recycling market dysfunctions have occurred that is largely due to China’s pullback on accepting recycled products.” 

International tariff policies also affect the market. “Thus, we are unable to accept plastic materials until further notice.”

Martin said no one arriving at local recycling centers will be forced to take their plastic refuse back home but they are given a choice to do that or place the plastics in the bulk waste bin.

“For people who have sorted plastic products we have directed our solid waste attendants to allow disposal of plastics in bulk waste bins at our convenience centers,” Couch said. “Meanwhile, we will be spreading the word to the public to dispose of plastics with their normal bagged household waste until such time that we can resume collecting them as recyclable products. “

Martin said several residents have opted to take their plastics back home, to store in case things change. 

But Couch warned of instability in the markets, due to China’s interest in reducing pollution and reaction to President Trump’s recently imposed tariffs on Chinese imports. The ban could shift to affect other recyclables, he said.

“We also intend to caution the public that the rapidly shifting recycling markets and tariff policies may cause suspension of accepting other products as we are served notice by vendors,” he said. “As we try to ascertain these changes we will try to let the public know as far in advance as possible.”

Couch referred a reporter to the New York Times article, explaining further how the ban affects the entire country.

The Times reported the United States recycles about 66 million tons of refuse annually. One third is exported, and most of that went to China.

China has banned 24 materials, including post-consumer plastics and paper, and rejects other materials such as cardboard and scrap metal if it is “more than .5 percent impure,” according to the article.

Martin said the Bulloch County Recycling centers are currently still accepting glass, cardboard, paper and aluminum or tin cans as recyclables.

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


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