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Recent changes to Fort Gordon Recycling has some members of the community asking "why?"

Jean Kelly, Fort Gordon Recycling director, has the answers, along with suggestions on how the community can help.

Effective Oct. 1, Fort Gordon Recycling stopped accepting plastic, newspapers, magazines and books at the recycling center. Collection containers across the installation -- to include within units and office buildings -- have either been picked up or relabeled to collect items accepted by the center.

The reason for the change is simple yet complex.

"It's basically about doing the best we can with the money we are given to get the most refund," Kelly said.

That is the simple answer. The more complex reason is rooted thousands of miles away -- in China.

Previously, a majority of the United States' recycled plastic, paper and glass was sent to China. Then in January 2018, China placed a ban on U.S. recyclables due to them not meeting China's strict contamination standards that require they be clean and unmixed.

"And even though ours here are clean because we have employees who hand-sort, there are a lot of places that use machines … and China got to a point where it was more like trash to them, so they put sanctions in place," Kelly explained.

The result: an influx of recyclables flooding the U.S.

"So not only are the mills that process [recyclables] getting full, but the middle man gets full, too," she said.

Kelly knows of six Department of Defense qualified recycling programs that have closed as a result. And while there are no signs of Fort Gordon's center closing, the center is doing what it must to stay afloat

"The materials that we kept and still accept bring a revenue back, which supports our program," Kelly said. "And the materials that we no longer accept -- like the books, magazines and newspaper -- we were going to have to pay somebody to take them."

For the items that Fort Gordon no longer accepts, Kelly hopes that people will remain environmentally conscious by collecting and taking them elsewhere. For her, that means collecting plastic water bottles at work and taking them home for her community's residential recycling program on Fort Gordon where she knows her bottles will not wind up in a landfill.

"So it's still being diverted," she said. "It's just not being diverted in the same way."

Simple changes, big impact

Consumers can make a positive difference by making small changes in their daily routines. Consider the following:

• Use washable food containers and bag instead of disposable.

• Ditch plastic bags for reusable ones.

• Dry hands with a fabric towel instead of paper towel.

• Fore-go plastic utensils with take out orders.

• Use a refillable water bottle.

• Use biodegradable or washable straws instead of plastic.