Changes in Global Recycling Market Impacts U of A Recycling Program

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas Razorback Recycling program was recently informed that the comingling of recycling streams – or the mixing of cans, glass and different types of plastic materials – is no longer economically viable for the campus’s primary recycling broker, Smurfit Kappa.

The problem appears to stem from China’s 2018 decision to ban imports of multiple types of solid waste. China had been a major buyer of these waste streams, including mixed plastics and unsorted mixed papers. This policy has had a dramatic impact on U.S. recycling programs.

Smurfit Kappa confirmed that they have been unable to find buyers for the comingled materials – cans, glass and plastic – gathered at the university and were forced to dispose of those items the past few months.

“We met with recycling vendor representatives last week to get more information about the situation and what can be done moving forward,” said Keith Roberts, director of facility operations and maintenance for educational and general  facilities. “We are currently looking into all potential alternatives as we remain committed to recycling as much of our waste as we can.”

Razorback Recycling will likely need to adjust the way it collects materials for recycling in the future.

“White paper and mixed paper or cardboard streams remain unaffected but we’re not sure yet about certain plastics and glass,” Roberts said. “We will exhaust all possibilities for recycling before making any longterm decisions.”

While looking for alternative solutions, Roberts said the university is exploring the possibility of paying an extra processing fee to have the comingled recycling streams separated so that cans, plastics No. 1 and No. 2, and possibly more can be recycled. Paper and cardboard materials would be recycled as normal.

“No matter what solution we come up with, we expect that we will need to change some signage and begin to educate our community about any change we may have to implement,” Roberts said. “We’ll be working on that this summer.”

“This isn’t just an issue for our campus; it’s impacting people around the world,” said Marty Matlock, executive director of the U of A Resiliency Center. “We will continue to work together to evaluate other options and pathways forward to recycle materials in an environmentally sustainable way.”

The University of Arkansas has ambitious goals to reach 50 percent diversion of solid waste from landfills by 2021, and 90 percent diversion from landfills by 2040. Over the past few years, many positive steps have been taken toward reducing the burden on landfills, including the Chartwells organics composting program, Razorback Food Recovery and expanding recycling to every floor of every residence hall.


Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations


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