Plastic bags damage recycling stream, operations at SMaRT Center

A move overseas is putting local recycling companies in a bind — and the Waste Management SMaRT Center is doing its best to create a clean recycling stream in response.

China is no longer accepting foreign recycled materials, so now, American companies are looking for new places to sell.

Here at home, the Waste Management Spokane Materials and Recycling Technologies Center sorts 260 to 280 tons of recyclables for domestic companies a day, but many Spokane neighbors are making a mistake that’s affecting the center’s workers and the environment.

Recycling Education and Outreach Coordinator Steven Gimpel said plastic bags are making their way into the center and are clogging up sorting machines, which forces the center to shut down operations as employees clear the bags away.

“It’s a process we like to call wish-cycling, where a resident has an item, they think there’s a good thing to do with it or a recycling home for it, so they put it in their system and that’s usually not the case,” Gimpel said.

Gimpel told KXLY4 sorters have to clear the machines four to eight times a day, which adds up.

“We process around 25 tons per hour of material and that’s up to an hour of downtime we have to clean our screens out,” Gimpel said. “So that could be 25 tons more of material that we have the ability to process if we didn’t have to clean those screens out on such a regular basis.”

There’s an easy fix — Gimpel said when recycling, you should stick to bottles, paper and cardboard and leave plastic bags out of your curbside bins. Waste Management also encourages you to avoid recycling garden hoses, tire chains and foods and liquids.