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Industry update: China’s National Sword program and its effect on global recycling markets

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Because of China’s National Sword program, which bans sets a much tougher standard for recycling materials and contamination levels, recycling markets continue to struggle worldwide. Before the program took effect, China consumed 55% of the world’s scrap paper as well as a significant percentage of other key recyclables like aluminum and plastic. Now that China has drastically tightened its standards, global recycling markets are in flux.

China was such a big recycling market that recycling market tensions are unlikely to go away in the near future. Until the U.S. can establish stronger domestic markets, the best thing we can all do is to take these two steps to “recycle right”:

  1. Get high-value materials into our curbside bins: cardboard, office paper, #1 and #2 plastic bottles and jugs, and aluminum and steel cans. These materials are easy to recycle and to resell, meaning recycling companies can remain financially viable while collecting company and community waste materials.
  2. Keep contaminants out of curbside bins: plastic bags, items smaller than a post-it note, food, liquids and scrap metals. These materials have the potential to damage otherwise recyclable materials or even break recycling machinery, leading to more waste and lower profits. We understand the desire to be an “aspirational recycler” and throw things in the bin optimistically – but this often leads to contamination and further waste. You can read some helpful tips in a recent New York Times article.

If you’re looking for more curbside recycling tips, you can read more about how to recycle right at

If you’re a company interested in working with Sonoco Recycling to minimize waste to landfill and meet your sustainability targets, contact Sonoco Recycling.