By Jacqueline Quynh

DENVER (CBS4) – It’s an international problem and it’s now directly impacting more people in Denver at the curb.

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“I would say we’re in unchartered territory right now,” John Griffith, GFL Environmental Regional VP said.

GFL (formerly Alpine Waste) is Colorado’s largest disposal and recycling service. Griffith has been in the business for 20 years, and he’s never seen anything like this.

“Absolutely, it’s a crisis,” he said.

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Griffith said the outlets to sell materials for recycling are disappearing. A lot of it has to do with China, the biggest buyer of recyclable materials setting new stricter standards. It’s known as the “Chinese National Sword” policy and this has driven down the market everywhere.

“For example, cardboard which is the number one component of our recycle stream was priced at $100 a ton… today it’s priced at $30 a ton.”

Couple that with rising costs for the work it takes to separate materials to meet the new standards and it’s hard for recyclers to keep up.

“So you have this collision of two different components to recycling both going in the wrong direction.”

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As a result, some customers are now feeling this pressure in their wallet. Griffith estimates some bills have gone up 60% over the last 12 months.

“Ultimately despite the rising costs and the increasing challenges to processing recycling in our industry what happens in the future is with recycling is in the consumer’s hands,” he added. That means consumers have to do better to recycle items free of impurities — otherwise they could all head for the landfill.

While the issue grows across the country, some recyclers are becoming more innovative, but it’s also pushing some recyclers to get out of the market because the profit margin is so low. China could reverse its policy and go back to using its thresholds, but that remains to be seen.

Jacqueline Quynh

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