Dear Municipal Recycling Stakeholders:


MassDEP is keenly aware of the challenges being faced by municipalities, haulers, and Material Recovery Facility (MRF) operators as a result of China’s National Sword policy. First, we’d like to acknowledge the critical partnership between local government, the private hauling and processing industry, non-profits, regional groups, and state government in maintaining a recycling infrastructure that will insure a healthy supply chain of post-consumer materials to both domestic and export end-users.  Together, we have built this system, and together we will work through this obstacle to ensure recycling’s continued success in Massachusetts.


We wanted to share our perspective and provide some suggestions that may be helpful moving forward.  


·        China’s new, tighter material specifications have affected the world market for recycling, reducing demand and causing over supply. This has driven prices down and in some cases affected the ability to move material since China has historically consumed so much material.  

·        Other factors including the extreme cold weather, temporary closure of the Boston port, high seasonal volumes of recyclables, a shortage of overseas shipping containers and a regional trucking shortage have created even more challenges and slowdowns to MRF operations.

·        MassDEP has met extensively with MRF operators and haulers and will continue these discussions relative to processing capacity and market issues.

·        MRFs are working extremely hard to modify operations to meet new contamination standards, send materials to alternative markets in Asia and domestically, and evaluate and install new sorting technology.  

·        MassDEP’s Recycling Business Development Grants (RBDG) offer funding to MRFs to offset technology retrofits. We expect to issue the next application for the RBDG program in spring 2018.

·        Mixed residential paper and unsorted plastics are the two materials most affected by the Chinese market standards.  Corrugated cardboard, metals, and #1 and #2 plastics are going to domestic markets.  Some industry observers believe there will be new investments in domestic market capacity.  Already, the Association of Plastic Recyclers has launched Recycling Demand Champions, a new program designed to expand market demand for recycled resins and improve plastic recycling in North America.

·        A key component to adjusting to this new market place is to work collectively to reduce contamination and clean up recycling.  This starts at home, school, and the workplace.   MassDEP’s Recycling I.Q. Kit – I.Q. stands for Increased Quality – is available to help municipalities implement a boots-on-the-ground program to fight contamination.  The I.Q. Kit has been tested in nearly a dozen communities.  Applications for I.Q. Kit funding and technical assistance are currently being accepted.  

·       To simplify the message to the public, MassDEP is working with MRF operators on a universal “acceptable materials” list to allow consistent messaging across the Commonwealth about what is and isn’t recyclable.

·        If your community has received a price increase request by its contracted hauler or processor, we suggest that you: 1) review your contract; 2) ask for supporting documentation to justify the increase; and 3) consider the value of an ongoing relationship when determining your response.  A successful recycling program depends on a partnership with all the responsible parties.

·        In some cases, material collected for recycling has simply had nowhere to go.  Collection trucks have to keep moving and MRF operators are limited by operating permits, safety, and operational constraints.  When no other options are available, MassDEP has authorized limited and short term disposal of materials on a case by case basis.  Fortunately, this has affected less than 5% of the collected materials.   Going forward, haulers or MRFs must notify municipal customers if their recyclables are being disposed, as a condition of MassDEP’s disposal waiver. 

For communities affected by the impending shut-down of the glass container plant in Milford, MassDEP is working to identify other options including a successful glass-into-processed glass aggregate (PGA) program in New Hampshire.  A similar program may make sense to replicate in Massachusetts for communities that source separate glass at transfer stations.  MassDEP is coordinating a webinar on February 9th where the Northeast Resource Recovery Association will outline their program and MassDEP will cover regulatory requirements that might apply to those interested in pursuing such an activity in Massachusetts.  To register for the webinar, click here.


Please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or your Municipal Assistance Coordinator if you would like to discuss your particular situation.


Sincerely yours,


Brooke Nash

Branch Chief
Municipal Waste Reduction Program
617-292-5984 voice