East Side Recycling Center will no longer accept plastic bags

Photo by Jason Smith

Plastic bags will no longer be accepted at the East Side Recycling Center or any of the other city-owned recycling drop-off locations, the Iowa City Department of Public Works announced on Friday.

The Eastside Recycling Center began accepting plastic bags in 2012. Last year, it collected almost 1,300 pounds of plastic bags each month, Iowa City Resource Management Superintendent Jennifer Jordan told Little Village.

But last year, the economics of recycling began to undergo a major change. For decades, China has been the world’s largest importer of paper and plastic waste. Chinese companies collect salvageable material from the waste for recycling. But as part of a plan to improve the country’s environmental conditions, the Chinese government imposed a ban on the import of “foreign garbage.”

Vietnam, another major importer of foreign waste, announced earlier this year it is considering a similar ban.

“I don’t blame them,” Jordan said. “They have to sort through tons of material to separate the good stuff from the bad, and then they have to landfill the garbage.”

Losing China as a reliable customer has had a major impact on American recycling companies, and they are no longer interested in acquiring the plastic bags Iowa City collects. That’s why the city is scrapping its bag recycling programing.

“It’s unfortunately that we’re ending a program, one that people like,” Jordan said, “but the plus side of this from my perspective is hopefully it gets people thinking about single-use products like these thin-film plastic bags and how they can reduce or end their use of those products,”

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