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Other Cities' Plastics Recycling Programs

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If you look at the range of plastics accepted for residential recycling in some of the nation's largest cities, the first thing you notice is that no city's program is the same.

This lack of consistency is the first clue to the fact that there is no standard or perfect recycling program design.

different places accept different plastics
asian export markets
nyc's program

Different Places Accept Different Plastics

No city's program is equivalent to any other, and all programs have detailed (some would say complicated) instructions of what plastics should and should not be recycled in that locality. Over time cities revisit their recycling program models and determine if changes should be made.

Some cities, like Los Angeles, leaving NYCWasteLess accept almost anything plastic; others, like Philadelphia, leaving NYCWasteLess accept only plastics that bear a #1 - #7 code.

The reason programs differ is based on access to recycling markets and capacity to sort material into bales that can be sold in those markets. Some markets, like those for #1 PET and #2 HDPE blow-molded bottles, jugs and jars are stable. Recyclers are confident they can find buyers for these materials. Other markets are weak or unstable, which makes it more difficult to rely on them. When unstable markets are down, some materials can end up being discarded after being sorted at the recycling plant.

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Asian Export Markets

Many recyclables are sold to Asian export markets. Asian importers will buy mixed loads of different types of plastics from the U.S., knowing that some of it will be valuable #1 and #2 bottles and jugs. In the importing country, plastics will be manually sorted to caputre the valuable materials and the rest discarded as refuse.

Some types of plastics with no domestic markets may find buyers in Asia. Small markets exist for a wider range of materials where raw virgin materials are not as readily available. Sorting materials is cheaper where environmental and labor laws are not as restrictive. Discarding materials that have no markets is cheap and easy where there is a lack of government oversight.

West coast cities have the easiest and cheapest access to these export markets. Other cities also export recyclable materials when markets are more favorable than domestic outlets and local policies allow it.

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NYC's Program

Until recently, New York City only accepted plastic bottle and jugs. As of April 2013, NYC expanded its program to include more types of rigid plastics.

This change is related to a number of factors, including the new Materials Recycling Facility being built in Brooklyn with added sorting capacity, a desire to make the recycling message easier for the public.

recycling plastics in nyc

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