Just Recycle It: Worldwide Recycling Industry Standards

November 1, 2018

“Items are only recyclable if someone is willing to purchase and use your recyclables to be made into new marketable products.” So what’s the issue? Just recycle it. The recycling market has become vastly more complicated since 2013, as the domestic capacity and rules for processing and manufacturing recyclable commodities have been restricted worldwide for all recycling collection organizations. Due to this, a large number of Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF’s), including Loraas Recycle, now have a limited number of local Canadian markets able to accept select material types for reuse; therefore overseas markets are required in order to remain operational.  The percentage of diversion to local mills is approximately 70% for old corrugated cardboard (OCC), 100% for household tin and aluminum, and 100% for injection mold plastics (8% of the total plastics volume).

International markets such as China are, “The primary overseas destination for recyclable commodities worldwide,” (ReMM Consulting Group, 2017). Foreign destinations for recyclable materials are redefining the standards for all recycling markets in terms of acceptable levels of contamination. In recent years, the Chinese government has implemented a nation-wide policy to limit contamination into their country. The first policy change was Operation Green Fence. It was implemented in January of 2013, with a sole purpose of protecting Chinese manufacturers from low-quality recyclables and to reduce contamination from imported recyclable materials. The second policy to affect recycling markets worldwide was the National Sword. It was implemented in February 2017 and aimed for a circular-economy model. In a study by Mo et al., 2009, it was noted that the focus of this model would help to protect China’s recycling efforts. China primarily faces domestically produced wastes which allowed them to implement a policy to cease smuggling of wastes into the country from external sources. The most recent policy enacted is the Import Ban. It was created on December 31, 2017, and intends to, “Ban the imports of four classes and 24 types of solid wastes including plastics from living sources, unsorted waste paper, and waste textile materials,” (ReMM Consulting Group, 2017). All changes to the recycling markets were made in an effort to address environmental concerns, worker safety, and quality of finished product.

As the demand for cleaner recyclable standards increased worldwide, so did processing costs for collection organizations and manufactures; placing a heavy burden on our domestic markets. Operation Green Fence lowered the acceptable contamination levels in cardboard bales from 7% to 1.5%. National Sword raised recycling industry standards to only allow 0.5% contamination for all material types being sold for reuse. The recent Import Ban listed plastic stretchable films as a banned material (e.g. plastic bags). In order to react effectively, new domestic regulations, practices, and equipment must be at least equally as progressive in order to achieve access to viable markets (ReMM Consulting Group, 2017).

All single stream recycling producers face technical sorting concerns when it comes to recyclable plastics contamination. Recyclable plastics must be separated by recyclable numbers because different plastic types are not compatible with one another. In other words, different plastics do not have the same melting point and therefore cannot be molded together to form a strong new product.  As an example, a small amount of #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) will form solid lumps of undispersed crystalline within a batch of #3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) significantly reducing the strength and value of the recycled material (Hopewell  J., 2009).  Contamination within recycled plastics causes reduced strength, clarity, and desired colour. Manufacturers prefer to use virgin materials to avoid quality concerns. Thus most recycled resin blended materials are turned into single-use products like plastic straws, grocery bags, or cutlery. In order to properly ensure our plastics have an extended lifespan beyond single use, it is imperative contamination be reduced to guarantee long-term viability for recycling markets in Canada. So remember to reduce and reuse the plastics you buy before you consider recycling them. If recycling is the option you choose, please rinse out your containers!



Hopewell J., Dvorak R., and Kosior E. 2009. Plastics recycling: Challenges and opportunities. Accessed at:http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1526/2115.short. Accessed on: 1 August 2018.

Mo H., Wen Z., and Chen J. 2009. China’s recyclable resources recycling stem and policy: A case study in Suzhou. Accessed at: https://www-sciencedirect-com.cyber.usask.ca/science/article/pii/S0921344909000536. Accessed on: 24 July 2018.

ReMM Consulting Group. 2017. Exporting recyclable commodities overseas from canada. Accessed at: http://thecif.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Freight-Export-ReMM.pdf. Accessed on: 2 August 2017.

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