Column: The world of recycling is changing


Commentary by Sue Maki

In my roles with the City of Carmel and Hamilton County, I get asked all the time about recycling. People really care about the environment and want to do the right thing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of incorrect information floating around. I hear from people who move here from other parts of the nation, where the recycling processes are different, confused about what we do. I also know that the recycling industry itself has changed and what was once true is no longer.

China, for example, used to take a large percentage of our recycling. Large barges used to go west across the Pacific Ocean, filled with our recyclables, and then come back east with goods that Americans buy. It was a system that worked for decades, but that changed recently. Not to get into the commerce and political details, but China has become extremely restrictive in accepting our recycling; frankly, they have enough of their own. We now have to look to American markets to process our recyclable waste.

Not to anyone’s surprise, American commodity processors have high standards for incoming material. They require low contamination rates for the commodities they accept. While China used to take our recyclables with virtually no standard, American commodity processors are different.

Regardless of what is going on in the recycling industry, the best practice is to try to reduce the amount of your personal waste. Going back to our great-grandparent’s era of reusing items and wasting as little as possible makes good financial sense. First, we should all “reduce” and “reuse.” Recycling is the last step.

Did you know plastic bags are a no-no? They should never be placed in recycling bins. In a future column, I will explain more do’s and don’ts about proper recycling.

Sue Maki is manager of the City of Carmel’s trash and recycling program and president of the Hamilton County Solid Waste Board, which oversees community recycling compactors in Noblesville.