What’s This About China and My Recycling?

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By Joshua Baker

You may have heard in the news recently that some changes are affecting recycling and that places like Far West Recycling and New Seasons are not taking your clamshells, or plastic bags anymore. Here is what is going on, and what that means with regards to your recycling, and our efforts to reduce waste.

Recently, China issued some policy changes that are impacting recycling globally, and especially here in Oregon. China is one of the world’s largest importers of materials for recycling. The Pacific Northwest, and in particular Oregon, exports a larger portion of its recyclables over to China than other regions.  China is banning post-consumer plastics, and mixed paper from import, and placing tight restrictions on how clean, and free of unwanted items, recycling must be. The result of China’s action has been a substantial reduction in the market for these materials. Since our local recycling services have to be able to sell materials to someone for processing, some of our recyclables are starting to pile up – unable to be sold, especially those materials which are less valuable.

So, what does this mean for your recycling?

1) Continue Recycling – Right now Portland’s residential curbside recycling as well as commercial recycling is continuing as usual.  However, this has put an end to some “special” recycling programs, like the collection bins you may have seen at New Seasons. In Lloyd, we’ve been looking into options to recycle styrofoam, which can’t be taken at the curb – so far this still looks possible in the future.

2) Recycle Correctly – A big reason China doesn’t want our recyclables anymore is because of contamination – when stuff like food, liquids, or incorrectly sorted materials end up in our recycling. When small plastic lids make it into the recycling for example, they can fall through the sorting system and end up in the wrong bundle of materials. It’s very labor-intensive to sort recycling at the recycling center, and things like plastic bags are notoriously bad for causing sorters to get stuck. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to the rules your waste hauler provides about what does and doesn’t belong in the bin. We all need to recycle properly so that good recyclables aren’t rejected before they can be turned into something else.

3) Buy Responsibly – It’s also important, as always, to focus on preventing waste first! This has always been a huge part of Lloyd’s plans for waste. A lot of recycling comes from packaging, so we all can work to prevent some of this, if we focus on using what we have, repairing things that break, sharing things with friends, and buying less overall. When each of us makes a purchase, we can choose to buy used, or seek out package-free alternatives. Buying locally or domestically produced recycled content goods boosts the US market for recyclables, helping our recycling system be less dependent on China. As a community, we can also contact manufacturers and ask them to minimize and/or eliminate packaging, use packaging with recycled content, and offer packaging take-back programs.

To learn more, visit Oregon Department of Environment’s website for guidance on this issue.