Oregon failing to meet its recycling goals

Despite efforts to improve on the amount of plastics in recycles, Oregon is still failing to meet its recycling goals.
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 9:28 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Despite efforts to improve on the amount of plastics it recycles, Oregon is still failing to meet its recycling goals.

At last count, based on a 2020 report from the Department of Environmental Quality, the state recovers only 14% of the plastics people throw in their recycle bins. That’s well short of the 25% goal set by the state legislature in 2015.

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At the center of the state’s struggles with plastics recycling was the 2018 decision by China to stop accepting recyclable materials from other countries. That decision left Oregon recyclers struggling to find markets for much of the plastics sent to them through the state’s recycling programs.

“Many of the programs downstate dropped everything except bottles. For plastics. They dropped all the tubs and pails, and they have not picked those up again yet,” said Peter Spendelow, Natural Resource Specialist with the DEQ.

But despite the disruptions caused by the closing of the Chinese market, people still throw all manner of plastics in their recycle bins, something the DEQ calls “wishful recycling.”

“The stuff that they think is recyclable, a lot of it isn’t. Plastic toys aren’t recyclable. Plastic trays are not recyclable. Clamshells are not recyclable,” said Spendelow. “A lot of that stuff will take a long ride to the landfill.”

According to the DEQ, Oregon’s plastics recovery fell from a high of 60,455 tons in 2014 to 49,913 tons in 2020.

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In response to the issues with plastics recycling, the state legislature passed the Recycling Modernization Act in 2021. The bill will require plastics manufacturers to share in the cost of recycling by funding improvements to expand recycling services. Those changes won’t go into effect until 2025.

“We want to do it right. And it’s going to take a long time to do that,” said Spendelow.