U.S. green industry sees red as China's 'Sword' persists

Local operations bolster services, eye more markets for recyclables

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China’s ‘National Sword’ continues to bleed the recycling industry in the United States – it’s a struggle, but River Recycling’s Jeff Craine considers himself fortunate amid the crisis.

The People’s Republic made deep cuts into its recycling imports in March as the policy reduced the amount of ‘contaminated’ recycled materials China would accept.

That blade had a drastic, immediate impact here in the United States, and it persists, including here in Kilgore.

“It has not been a very good year, I’ll tell you that, but fortunately we’ve been able to weather the storm to this point,” says Craine, owner/operator of River Recycling on FM1252. “This by far has been the toughest year we’ve had since 2011 when we got in the business.”

That said, the operation recently replaced, repaired and upgraded equipment in order to improve its services for solid customers.

“For us, fortunately, we are under contract with Pratt paper in Shreveport. We’ve got to continue to produce as much paper and cardboard as we can,” Craine added. “Right now we’re fortunate to have that because a lot of people didn’t.

“Pricing is still pretty bad, but due to our contracts we’re able to have a home for our paper products and continue to sort and recycle those.”

The recycling setup briefly paused operations for the recent improvements.

“Recycling operations at the facility were on hold for about a week as the new equipment was being installed,” confirmed Gene Keenon, manager of municipal and government affairs for Republic Services, which handles Kilgore’s waste and recycling.

It took a few dozen roll-off waste containers to hold the excess recyclables in the interim, Keenon said, but everything’s headed for the River Recycling facility now.

“We’re still working on it,” Keenon added. “As we have time, we’re bringing those hauls back to the recycle center to be processed.”

The upgrades included a new in-feed conveyor, Craine said, an extensive overhaul. Taking advantage of the downtime, the company also replaced belts, rollers and motors while updating balers and pumps.

“All kinds of things to make sure we’re ready to go for the next several years without having any breakdowns,” he added. “Without a working in-feed conveyor, it’s awfully hard to get things going.”

The ‘National Sword’ policy continues to worry Keenon and his colleagues.

So far, it’s increased costs for recyclables at River Recycling – “…which is still less than most are charging,” he said. “I think that they are counting on Republic Services’ sustainability mission and doing whatever we can to continue taking care of our environment.

There’s been no change in the policy out of China: “We don’t know when it’s going to let up. There’s a lot of cities that have suspended or canceled their recycling programs. The realities we’re facing is the cost and expense of collecting recycling. It appears to continue to go up rather than down.”

Business will continue – as usual, as possible – until there’s change, Craine said.

“As far as plastics, we’re still taking (category) ones and twos. There’s very little market for anything other than that. We’re still chugging along, still doing well with aluminum and steel cans and that sort,” he noted. Looking ahead to the New Year and beyond, “I think everybody in the industry is really hoping for some breakthroughs.

“Not necessarily in China but in other emerging markets picking up,” with an eye on Vietnam, India and similar countries that could make use of the United States’ surplus recyclables.

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