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Stricter Chinese recycling import rules increase Las Vegas trash fees

The global economic consequences of China’s policy to significantly reduce imports of recyclable materials will soon be felt in wallets here in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday approved increasing by 74 cents the monthly trash fee for nearly 170,000 residential customers served by Republic Services, the city’s contracted trash and recycling management company. The increase goes into effect Dec. 1.

It was a rate hike requested by the company in order to offset the increased operating costs and lower revenue for recyclable materials in the wake of China’s so-called National Sword Policies. Similar adjustments may soon be proposed in Clark County, North Las Vegas and Henderson, which also contract with Republic Services, according to Jennifer Lazovich, a lobbyist representing the company.

“We would not be before you today if we had our choice,” Lazovich told Las Vegas city officials Wednesday. “We don’t have a choice.”

China has long been a global leader in recyclable imports and, at one point, received more than half of the world’s recyclable commodity exports, according to a National League of Cities report on the disruption to the market.

Its restrictions on foreign recyclable materials date to 2013. In January 2018, however, China began to greatly shrink its import of mixed paper and mixed plastics — the two most common materials processed by municipal recycling systems.

The report said the new, very low contamination level China imposed on imports was too low for any American recycler to meet.

Slashing recycling imports

Lazovich said Chinese policies have equated to a 90 percent reduction of that country’s recyclable imports, noting that other Asian countries have adopted similar stances, furthering the global economic strain.

She said Republic Services had talked with city officials nearly every other week for several months to discuss the impact. The company also pushed hard to keep rate increases under $1, she added, underscoring that it was less than hikes enacted by other municipalities in response to the situation and that overall rates would remain lower than those in similar cities.

For customers in the city of Las Vegas, the $15.20 monthly base rate will bump to $15.94.

While Lazovich pointed out that it has been more than two decades since Republic Services sought a rate increase in the city, it will be the second such hike for customers in two months. A rate surcharge to pay for city environmental programs went into effect on Oct. 1.

That increase of about $2.28 per quarter on average, approved by the council in July, is expected to generate about $4 million annually to help clean trash throughout public spaces, city officials have said. The surcharge was requested by the city and not Republic Services, although the company will collect the revenues and pass them on to City Hall to be used in a special fund.

Majority support

Councilman Stavros Anthony was the lone dissenter to both increases.

Councilwoman Victoria Seaman said she initially was planning to fight the latest rate change but ultimately believed it served a good purpose. Lazovich said the company keeps 90,000 tons of recyclable material each year from going to a landfill.

“I have to admit, when this came across my desk, I asked my staff to find reasons to vote against it,” Seaman said. “But all the research that we did told us that voting for it was the right thing to do.”

The rate change will remain in effect for at least five years, regardless of whether China loosens restrictions. If Republic Services chooses to seek another increase after the five-year period to deal with continued effects from Chinese policies, the council must decide whether to approve the hike, according to a city document.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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