Unfortunate Changes to Plastic Recycling in Portland

Part one of a 3-part series

By Guest Blogger Barbara Ballew, Master Recycler, class of Feb. 1997

China has been the buyer of our post-consumer plastics and other used commodities. They have just announced to the World Health Organization adoption of new environmental regulations, under which they are no longer allowing importation of recycled plastics, etc. from the United States and Europe.

With no buyer, recyclers here will no longer be collecting these items.

No need to go from one recycler to another, or one grocery store to another — recyclers will stop collecting plastics. They have no one to sell them to.

The exception, right now, is Curbside Recycling. Refresh your memory at Metro’s web page on plastics accepted curbside In short,

” Sort plastic by SHAPE, not by number:
• Ignore the numbers. Ignore the arrows. Sort by shape.
• See IMAGE.

These items are OK in your recycling container – rinse thoroughly:

• Plastic bottles, jugs and jars 6 ounces or larger, any container with a threaded neck (for a screw-on lid) or neck narrower than the base. This includes milk jugs, peanut butter jars, and bottles that held personal care and cleaning products (shampoo, laundry soap, etc.).
• Plastic tubs 6 ounces or larger, usually round with a wider rim than base and contain products such as salsa, margarine, cottage cheese, hummus, etc.
• Planting/nursery pots larger than 4 inches in diameter and made of rigid (rather than crinkly or flexible) plastic. Remove any loose dirt.
• Buckets 5 gallons or smaller. Handles are OK.

Do NOT include these items in your recycling container (place them in your garbage can):

• Plastic bags. Plastic bags are a serious problem for recycling facilities. They get caught in machinery, which causes costly shut-downs of sorting lines to cut the bags out of the equipment. Take plastic bags back to stores or drop them off at recycling centers so they are collected separately from other plastics.
• Bottles that have contained hazardous materials such as motor oil, pesticides, herbicides. Bottles that have contained cleaning products are OK.
• Lids. They are too small or too flat to be sorted out of recyclables and usually end up at paper mills where they contaminate the paper.
• Trays from microwaveable meals, deli products, prepackaged meals and snacks. Take-out, deli or other food containers that are not specifically tubs, including clamshell-type containers, boxes, bowls, etc.
• Styrofoam or other foam products (cups, meat trays, egg cartons, packaging foam, packing peanuts, etc.).
• Plastic or plastic-coated beverage cups, lids or straws. These are garbage at home.
• Plastic packaging that doesn’t conform to the bottle, jar, bucket or tub shapes, such as blister packaging, clamshell or film (stretch or shrink wrap, bubble wrap and bags), or containers smaller than 6 ounces. ”

As a household that has been generating a fair amount of post-consumer plastic waste, we will need to revert to the “Pre-Cycling” used before the days of taking a load to Far West. Pre-cycling is the practice of reducing waste by attempting to avoid bringing items, which will generate waste, into the home or business — Cutting waste at its source and eliminating trash before it’s created. For us, instead of quick or frozen food in plastic trays, we will look for bagged options; instead of smaller quantities in containers, we will look for bulk purchase options. Your situation and choices will be unique to you.

Several of us on NextDoor are Master Recyclers (think Master Gardeners for recycling). [To earn this certification, one attends 17 weeks of classes plus field trips, and performs a specified number of internship hours over the year following the coursework.] We have been putting our heads together on plastics, and considering what actions we might take.

Portland City Council is concerned about plastic straws, and before China’s announcement to the WHO they were considering a ban on those straws. We think a more comprehensive look at the abundance of rigid plastics in our lives may be in order.

If you would like to have one-on-one or group conversation about this, or other recycling topics, I invite you to contact me. We could text, telephone, or set up a get-together. I would enjoy hearing others’ strategies.

~Barbara Ballew, Master Recycler, class of Feb. 1997

Tell us in the comments what tips you have for reducing the use of plastics at home!

Part two focuses on why China has recently stopped importing recyclable plastic, and why attempting to force recyclers to take materials we wish they would recycle actually can ruin the chances of recyclable materials getting recycled.
Part three offers tips for Reducing plastic waste

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