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All that sorting you do? Still some of Rock Hill’s recycling winds up in landfill

You’re environmentally conscious. With all good intentions you sort your trash and take the recycling bin to the curb for pickup. But because of a rapidly changing market, many recyclables in Rock Hill are ending up in the landfill anyway.

Glass, in particular, is being dumped rather than recycled.

Inside Rock Hill city limits, curbside service collects recyclables from aluminum and cardboard to glass, paper and plastic. Residents place recyclables in a blue bin next to the garbage can for weekly pickup. But city officials were surprised recently to learn some of the recyclables are not being recycled.

“Items that are recyclable and put in recycling bins are taken to Pratt Industries in Rock Hill to be recycled,” Rock Hill communications manager Katie Quinn said.

However, that’s not always happening.

Pratt Industries, a packaging company, recycles for several local communities. According to Pratt’s Southern Region Senior Vice President Shawn State, the company collects about 24,000 tons of recyclables annually in the Rock Hill area.

State said paper goes to Pratt mills and other local paper mills while other commodities are sold domestically to consuming companies. But, with no end markets for glass — and plastics numbered three through seven — those items that were previously recycled are now going to the landfill.

Quinn said the city has contracted with Pratt Industries since 2013 and was not aware the company was dumping recyclables at the landfill.

“While the contract states ‘all recyclable materials shall become Pratt’s property ... upon being unloaded and accepted at the site,’ city staff understood this to mean Pratt would recycle the materials onsite or arrange for alternative recycling locations,” Quinn said.

Rock Hill provides free recycling bins to residents, and curbside recycling pickup is included in the monthly sanitation rate at no additional charge. Quinn said given the new information provided by The Herald, the city intends to review its processes and the items accepted.

“However, since the market for recyclable materials changes, it’s possible these items could be recycled by Pratt in the future, as they were in the past,” she said.

Rock Hill isn’t the only city dealing with these issues. The city of Lincolnton, N.C., discontinued its curbside recycling on June 15 because its recycling vendor, Sonoco, no longer accepts and processes the city’s single-stream recycling.

Recyclables from Tega Cay, and Chester and Lancaster counties are taken to one of several Sonoco municipal recycling facilities. Since Sonoco no longer accepts glass, Tega Cay and Chester County aren’t either, and Lancaster County will soon follow.

“Almost everyone in the industry has now stopped accepting glass,” said Brian Risinger, corporate communications director for Sonoco. “Two reasons — it is very difficult on the equipment in the processing facilities and tends to damage them. Also, the aftermarket for glass just dried up so there was no one really to sell it to.”

Aftermarkets for other materials have evaporated as well. Earlier this year, China, which used to be a major customer for recyclable material from the U.S., imposed bans on foreign waste imports, including types of plastic and paper.

“Recycling is a business like any other business, and the way the supply chain used to work before the actions by China was there was an aftermarket for the collected materials that companies like Sonoco could sell into, which would then offset the recycling services and processing costs provided to the municipalities,” Risinger said.

“The ability to sell the materials after processing is how recycling operations make a profit.”

Because the international aftermarket has greatly diminished, piles of recyclables are mounting across the U.S. The surplus is driving down the value of recyclables.

Although Pratt Industries sells all of its materials domestically, it’s difficult to sell a product no one needs.

“If end markets get stronger, we can process and sell the material,” State said. “End markets being stronger is the solution.”

That’s what Quinn said the city of Rock Hill is hoping for.

“We try to make recycling as easy for residents as possible, and regularly changing the list of items we collect curbside based on the current market can be confusing,” she said. “We’d suggest for the time being, residents continue their normal recycling habits.”

Coming soon: A more in-depth look at recycling in the tri-county area, including information that will likely surprise you, and tips for becoming a conscientious recycler.

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