New policy change threatens to send Oregon recycling to landfill - KPTV - FOX 12

New policy change threatens to send Oregon recycling to landfills

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Oregon, a state with a reputation for recycling, is facing a serious challenge when it comes to recycled plastic, with the threat of some materials being sent to a landfill.

Several months ago, China announced it would no longer accept post-consumer plastics, a policy change that went into effect in January.

The change leaves local recyclers, who previously baled up the mixed materials collected in the state's recycle bins and shipped it overseas, in the lurch.

Oregon currently doesn't have a facility designed to separate plastics from the other materials collected.

"Nobody was willing to build a plastics sorting facility on the west coast as long as China was buying that material because China could beat us out on prices. They have much cheaper labor prices," Peter Spendelow, a natural resource specialist with the Department of Environmental Quality said.

There are facilities that take plastics, like Denton Plastics in Northeast Portland, but the material Denton receives comes from commercial and industrial sources, like grocery chains and nurseries.

"Those materials come into us separated. So it's a big difference than what's being put into the curb," Nicole Janssen, President of Denton Plastics said.

Janssen is a member of the Association of Plastics Recyclers, an organization that saw the problem coming, and has been working for the last two years on a solution.

"The future of plastic recycling is to keep it domestic. You want to have this regional recycling plan of 'let's not ship materials overseas and make it somebody else's problem,'" Janssen said.

Janssen said Denton Plastics is interested in potentially expanding its operations to also process post-consumer plastics, but the threat that China could eventually reverse its policy and undercut local processors is a deterrent.

"Until we find a solution to that and have all the different parties agree for it to stay in the state and be manufactured here and create jobs here, we're not going to have anybody that's going to step up to the plate," Janssen said.

The state of Oregon is already falling short of its recycling goals.

According to the DEQ, the state generated three percent more waste in 2016 than it did the year before, and recovery rates decreased from 46.2% to 42.6%. 

The state's goal is a 50% recovery rate.

Janssen believes it's time for the state to re-assess its recycling process.

"In a perfect world, I would say we separate out the paper, just like we do the glass, so that paper can be kept cleaner, and then you can put the other materials in together," Janssen said.

But until recyclers or state legislators put a plan in place to address the new reality, there will be continued uncertainty about the future of plastics in Oregon, with what used to go to China for processing potentially bound for a landfill.

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