Upcoming China ban on plastics affects Hannibal recycling business

Mike Willing, right, and Beanka Coons load newsprint and other paper into a horizontal bailer at 2 Rivers Industries recycling facility in Hannibal, Mo. | H-W File Photo/Phil Carlson
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 7, 2017 9:15 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- 2 Rivers Industries no longer accepts five types of plastics for recycling. The ban on plastic marked with numbers 3 through 7 took effect Monday.

"The commodities market affects what we can accept. China is no longer accepting 3 through 7 plastics due to its pollution problem, and China is where U.S. recycling companies would send plastics," 2 Rivers Executive Director Melonie Nevels said.

She explained that China's "Green Fence" has recently had a major impact on the U.S. recycling business.

For several years, China has been the largest purchaser of U.S. recyclables. Operation Green Fence was a 10-month crackdown in 2013 where Chinese customs officials strictly inspected and prohibited the import of unwashed and contaminated items into the country. A permanent Operation Green Fence and ban of 24 types of recycled materials, including various plastics, goes into effect Jan. 1.

"There is no present economical way to recycle these plastic types in the U.S. We don't have an avenue right now to dispose of them," Nevels said. "It is good that the Chinese government has stepped up to tackle its waste management and pollution problem, but in the U.S. we lose our biggest buyer. We would love to be able to recycle everything, but it is not possible if no one is buying."

"Unfortunately, now household waste goes up, and we have 80,000 pounds of plastic without a buyer," she added.

Plastics are grouped by type and number.

Plastic No. 1 is used to make bottles for soft drinks, water, condiments and other liquids. Plastic No. 2 is used for cleaning supplies, shampoo bottles and grocery bags, for example.

The first of the banned products, plastic No. 3, is often found in deli and meat wraps, toys and tablecloths. The next banned plastic is used in bags for bread and newspapers and to create hot and cold beverage cups. Plastic No. 5 provides the structure for yogurt, takeout, deli and medication containers. Foam is considered plastic No. 6. Miscellaneous plastics that don't fit the other types are labeled as No. 7 and often are used to create large water jugs, DVD cases and certain food containers.

The number of the plastic can be found in a triangle on the products.

Nevels said there are ways to reduce plastic dependency.

"Use cloth bags while shopping. Refuse single-serving packaging, straws and other disposable plastics," she explained. "Take your travel mug with you to your favorite coffee shop that will let you use them. Instead of taking disposable plastic dishes to your holiday potlucks, take your dishes and utensils from home."

Earlier this year, 2 Rivers stopped collecting clothing, belts, purses, shoes and soft toys.

Items the facility, at 659 Clinic Road, accepts for recycling include cardboard, paper, No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, metals, electronics, books, magazines and printer toner cartridges.

More information about what can be recycled can be found at or by calling 573-221-3211.

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