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Midwest Fiber debunks myths about recycling

Written by on April 24, 2019

NORMAL – Increasing amounts of contamination in recycling bins is making recycling more difficult and expensive for local disposal services, according to the Ecology Action Center.

Despite the real issues recycling companies are facing with today, the public perception has it that the real crisis is with the relatively new Chinese tariffs on imported waste materials. There are even rumors that recycling companies are sending the abundance of materials to landfills.

A representative from Midwest Fiber, Todd Shumaker, said that this is not the case. He explained what the company is doing to keep up with the increasingly difficult market.

“We just recently made the next step, which is to invest about 3 million dollars into our facility here in Bloomington-Normal… We know that’s important. That’s all we do is recycling, so everything we try to do is just try to keep things out of the landfill,” Shumaker said.

While the concerns that recycling companies have to cope with the Chinese tariffs is legitimate, it is not the crisis some have imagined it to be.

“China’s been a primary buyer of a lot of that material and they’ve changed some of their policies, where they’re restricting the amount of imports going into China, which has made us kind of reshuffle the deck or make us find new homes for materials,” Shumaker said.

China updated their tariffs on waste materials at the beginning of 2018, so recycling companies in the U.S. have not been able to ship as much material overseas. According to Shumaker, Midwest Fiber is still finding new homes for materials. Their concern for the time being is keeping contaminants out of the recycled materials so that it is more likely to sell.

“Our end markets are just demanding a better quality product, we’re wanting to make sure the material we ship out is better quality,” Shumaker said.

This starts at the local level, with each household keeping contaminants out of the recycling bin.

“A lot of communities – there’s just a lack of education,” Shumaker explained. “How do you continuously remind 20 – 30 thousand households what should go in the bin, what can’t go in the bin?” 

Shumaker’s advice to start? Stop using plastic bags at the grocery store. Plastic bags tend to get caught in the sorting machinery, and each one adds up to lost hours of sorting through recyclable material. 

Photo courtesy of Midwest Fiber.

Elizabeth Kolze contributed to this story.