Guide Massachusetts Recycling Markets Update

Chinese Government restrictions on imports of recyclable commodities have had dramatic effects on recycling in Massachusetts, across the country, and around the world. Learn about these and other market challenges, and how MassDEP is helping municipalities, haulers, and processors meet them.

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Global Markets, Local Impacts

Before National Sword China was the world's largest importer of recyclable paper and plastic, accepting more than half of these materials generated around the globe.

Recent restrictions imposed by the Chinese Government on imports of recyclable materials - known as China National Sword - have dramatically affected recycling in Massachusetts and beyond. Tighter end-market specifications for recovered paper and plastics have led to higher processing costs and lower revenues, particularly for paper.

Like any other commodity, recyclables have always been subject to market fluctuations. But when viewed as a long-term waste management strategy, recycling has helped cities and towns reduce their disposal costs, boosted our state's economy, and improved the environment around us.

At the same time, cities and towns across Massachusetts are feeling the impacts of both China National Sword and regional market disruptions - such as the recent closure of a large recycled-content glass bottle manufacturing plant in Milford.

MassDEP recognizes that market conditions have real local consequences, and to the degree that the agency can help municipalities mitigate these impacts, it is doing what it can. Working together, our state and local governments can weather the current storm and maintain the recycling infrastructure that they have, for many years, worked so hard to build.

Additional Resources for Global Markets, Local Impacts

What MassDEP is Doing

As a result of ongoing conversations with recycling processors, haulers, and municipalities to fully understand the challenges they face, MassDEP has taken several steps to try and lessen the impact of recent fluctuations in the markets for recyclables. These include:

  • Offering processors flexibility to store baled materials;
  • Allowing municipalities to store glass while exploring alternative markets (see the policy); and
  • When outlets for collected recyclables are unavailable, issuing limited waste ban waivers to haulers, processors, and municipalities to facilitate continued operations.

To help cities, towns, and processors more effectively meet the challenge of tighter end-market specifications for recyclables, MassDEP also has:

  • Developed the Recycling IQ Kit, which provides cities and towns with steps, tools, and resources to help educate residents about the need to improve the quality of materials they recycle;
  • Expanded the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program to include grants for acquiring equipment to convert glass into processed glass aggregate for use in construction and paving projects;
  • Authorized the use of Recycling Dividends Program payments to offset increases in recycling costs; and
  • Introduced new Business Recycling Development Grants to both spur investment in equipment to more efficiently remove contaminants and develop new markets for targeted materials, such as glass.

Follow the links in Additional Resources below to learn more.

Additional Resources for What MassDEP is Doing

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