Recyclables in Washington state are piling up with no place to go. City and county recycling plants typically sell your recycled milk jugs, newspapers and boxes to China, but the country has recently banned all ‘foreign garbage.’

Before the ban, the country bought most of the nation’s recycled goods. China turned shipments full of our old recyclables into new products, but now, Chinese officials say the recyclables from the U.S. are too contaminated and refuse to accept any more.

China’s decision has put recyclers in Washington in a real bind. There aren’t many outlets that buy recycled goods. With no place to go, recyclers may be forced to send materials to landfills.

Officials aren’t sure China will stick to ban

While the garbage ban has created problems for recyclers, some aren’t sure China will enforce it for long. Recycling experts say the country relies on recycled goods, particularly plastic, as a source of raw materials, which is cheaper than using original materials.

Without a supply of raw materials, the price to create goods will increase in China, which could encourage officials to reverse the ban.

While there are no signs of reversal, Chinese official have said they’ll accept recycled materials with a contamination level of 0.3% or less, which industry leaders in the U.S. say is next to impossible.

What residents can do to help

Recyclers say they’ll keep looking for places to sell recyclables, but local landfills are a likely solution, at least short-term.

In the mean time, what should residents do? The news, while discouraging, shouldn’t stop Washington residents from recycling. The state has a recycling rate of 50%, far above the national average of 34%.

Recyclers don’t want residents to abandon the blue bin, but they are asking that recyclables are as clean as possible. Rinse glass jars, don’t recycle greasy pizza boxes and make sure everything in the bin is indeed recyclable.

Recyclers will contact residents if there are any changes in services.

A replacement for recycling may be needed

The garbage ban is just the latest problem to plague the recycling industry. Recently, recycling centers shut down due to revenue losses, recycling rates have remained stagnant for years, and more and more contaminated recyclables go to the landfill.

Given the many obstacles facing the industry, it may be time to replace recycling with a new idea, like refill technology.

Rather than recycling single-use plastic bottles like laundry detergent or shampoo, you can reuse the same bottle over and over again – you just refill it. How? Retailers can set up DIY refill stations that wash, fill and seal bottles of your favorite soap or shampoo in seconds.

Refill provides a zero-waste solution, which means there’s less waste to recycle. Since recyclers don’t have anywhere to sell or ship recyclables right now, reducing the quantity could be helpful.

If you’re ready to find a new solution to the nation’s recycling problem, sign the petition below to let retailers know that you want refill stations set up at every location.

Take some time to learn more about refill technology, how it works and what you can refill.