China’s National Sword campaign to increase the quality of imported recyclables is cutting into the city of Durango’s budget and private industry profits. In the last few months, China, the largest importer of recyclables, has started enforcing bans on many types of materials because they were so badly contaminated with trash, Reuters reported.

“They want American paper, but they don’t want American garbage, which is fair,” said Mark Thompson, the owner of Phoenix Recycling. China’s ban flooded the domestic market with recyclables, leading prices to fall dramatically, Montezuma County Landfill Manager Shak Powers said.

“Last month was the biggest price drop ever for fiber, paper, cardboard,” Thompson said. Since then, the prices have recovered somewhat.

As a result of China’s ban, the city of Durango no longer receives monthly payments from Friedman Recycling in Albuquerque that covered the cost of shipping bales of paper, metal, and plastic – materials that are part of the city’s single-stream program, said Levi Lloyd, city operations director.

The monthly payments were a form of profit-sharing from Friedman, a company that processes the city’s recyclables. Before the market crashed, the city was receiving about $1,000 to $2,000 a month.

Durango collects 66 tons a week in single-stream recycling materials, and contamination is rarely an issue, he said. All of the city’s recycling efforts divert about 30 percent of residential and commercial waste from the landfill, said Imogen Ainsworth, the city’s sustainability coordinator.

Statewide, only 12 percent of waste is diverted from landfills, according to a report from Ecocycle. Residential fees cover the cost of operations and recycling in the city, Lloyd said. Next year, residents could pay $1.61 a month more for trash and recycling, an 8.5 percent increase, that will indirectly help fund recycling.

“The 8.5 percent increase frees up revenue for trash and recycling programs by making the sustainability programs self-sustaining,” Lloyd said. Trash and recycling fees have funded sustainability programs, such as household hazardous waste collection events.

In light of the market changes, the Montezuma County Landfill hired a person to sort materials before baling and shipping them to bolster the value of its products, Powers said. The county has processed 782.27 tons of recyclables this year.

Montezuma County does not accept single-stream materials, which keeps the products cleaner and therefore more valuable, Powers said. “Anybody that is going to stay competitive is going to have clean their products up a lot,” he said.

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