26 June 2022
NOTE From Councilor Groves: I'm happy to see plastics No. 1 and No. 2 being accepted again for recycling by most garbage haulers. I will also be interesting in seeing what SB 582 produces in addressing further ventures in addressing waste and the opportunities created to better process our waste. Our environment is fragile and we have a responsibility to be good stewards and protect it. This includes being conscious of the products we purchase and considering how they are packaged when we make these decisions. It also includes our willingness to take the extra steps of following recycling rules and cleaning containers properly before placing them in our recycle bins.
I am also gratified to see a number of companies increasing recycled materials in the composition of their products and thereby strengthening the market for recycled goods.
Local recycling haulers will start taking types of plastics previously banned
Eugene Register-Guard USA TODAY NETWORK
Some local recycling haulers again are taking types of plastics banned from their bins when the market for reusables fell into turmoil in 2018. But for now it represents only a small change in the way Lane County’s waste is managed.
Lane County announced June 1
No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, which include items such as drink and shampoo bottles, would again be accepted at transfer stations and in most curbside bins. The decision was initiated by Sanipac, which collects recycling in Eugene and elsewhere, allowing the plastics in their carts again, and other haulers followed suit.
“We felt it was a cautious step forward at this time,” said Sanipac Senior Accounts Manager Aaron Donaly. “A lot of major cities in Oregon have already put them back in, so we felt comfortable to take that small step forward again.”
That step forward was market driven, and not every hauler in Lane County is making the same choice. The state is in the process of developing new recycling rules, and some are waiting for them to shake out before making changes.
“We don’t know what those new rules are yet,” said Cottage Grove Garbage Service General Manager Tim Alverson. “I tend to take the more conservative path. I want to see what’s happening with Senate Bill 582 before I go and mess up a system that we have in place that produces what’s probably the cleanest comingle recycling in Oregon.”
The Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2021, requires producers of plastic, paper and other materials to fund recycling programs and facilities across the state through a stewardship organization. It also requires the creation of an official, statewide list of what can be included in comingled recycling.
Lane County Waste Reduction Program Supervisor Angie Marzano said the landmark law will build out existing local recycling programs throughout Oregon, helping to reduce the impact of market conditions on what will be recycled.
But the bulk of SB 582’s provisions won’t kick in until 2025. “Right now, the onus falls on local governments to figure out what to do with all of these materials,” Marzano said. “We’re in the black on some of these materials — like metal, like carboard — but most of these materials cost local governments thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to get to end markets that use them responsibly.”
The swing of market conditions
No. 1 and No. 2 plastics were cut out of local comingled recycling after China stopped taking American recycling in 2018, largely over issues of contamination — or when recycling is dirty, incorrectly sorted or otherwise likely to get it rejected and, potentially, sent to a landfill. Without an end-buyer for America’s recyclable waste, the market was cast into turmoil it still is trying to quell, leaving many municipalities either with a more costly bill or a fuller landfill. In Lane County and elsewhere across the county, part of the response was to eliminate some plastics from acceptable comingled recycling. Other items were cut from local recycling programs at the same time to reduce contamination and keep buyers interested. “It’s a commodity market. We have to have someplace to take it or there’s nowhere for it but a landfill,” Donley said.
The WestRock facility in Portland that takes much of Lane County’s baled comingled recycling has accepted No. 1 and No. 2 plastics uninterrupted since 2015. But those plastics were eliminated from acceptable comingled recycling in 2018 because market conditions were unstable and simplifying the waste stream was seen as a way to assure it kept flowing, Donaly said.
Donaly said facilities like WestRock suffered slowdowns during the early years of the recycling crisis. That meant more time and cost sorting out contamination, and some facilities signaled they’d be accepting less total recycling.
Recycling in Lane County is a complicated web of waste generators, haulers and their relationships with processors.
Recycling collected by the county through its transfer stations or community recycling programs is sent to places like EcoSort, a Sanipac sister company. Depending on the commodity market for individual recyclable types, EcoSort either pays to take materials, like cardboard, or is paid to take and dispose of materials such as comingled recycling. Collection of curbside recycling in Lane County is generally managed by private companies and ends up at places such as EcoSort or International Paper for sorting or baling. Those companies then send recyclables to places like the Portland WestRock facility, a materials recovery facility where recycling is sorted and prepared for endbuyers.
Sanipac, for example, brings baled comingled recycling and pays West-Rock to take it. Because WestRock accepts comingled recyclables in hopes of sorting out profitable materials, plastics, often a source of contamination, were removed from allowable curbside recycling in 2018 to assure recovery facilities wouldn’t rejectwhat was sent. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t get turned away at the door of these facilities and that they knew our material was not full of garbage,” he said. “We added a level of scrutiny limiting it to certain things we knew were valuable.” Things have changed since then, though the market is still not fully recovered from the 2018 loss of Chinese buyers.
Marzano said many recycling facilities, such as WestRock’s in Portland, now have incorporated technologies like 3D imaging to better automate the work of sorting out recycling before processing. Though some recyclables, such as mixed paper, have tumbled in value to processors, the global market for recycled plastics recently is on the rebound.
“Natural gas prices are going up. Energy costs are going up. More producers, say Pepsi and Coke, they’re making commitments to put more recycled content resin in their products instead of using virgin gas to produce their products. What that creates is a supply and demand proposition that makes recycled materials valuable,” she said.
Donaly said such conditions made Sanipac and others feel secure in allowing No. 1 and No. 2 plastics back in bins.
Statewide comprehensive program in the works
Alverson at Cottage Grove Garbage Service, was caught off guard when he learned some Lane County haulers were allowing No. 1 and No. 2 plastics back into curbside bins. But the Cottage Grove hauler said, for his company, the decision to do so would have been costly and would come with uncertainty because new rules are still being made.“When the plastic was taken out of the comingle stream, it was a bear of a challenge to reeducate folks. Plastic was a contaminate and no longer accepted, processors didn’t want it,” Alverson said. “Now we don’t want to add it back until we know what the rules and regulations are going to be behind Senate Bill 582, the new recyclinglegislation.” The rules still are being written, but likely will include plastics, said Marzano, who sits on the Oregon Recycling System Advisory Council with some other Lane County representatives involved in the process of rolling out SB 582. “This is going to be the catalyst for a massive overhaul of Oregon’s recycling system,” Marzano said. “It’s going to make it easier for the public to understand and participate in the recycling system. It’s calling for upgrades to public and private facilities. It will help close the transportation gap for us, which now we pay to haul plastics to Portland.”
Donaly said Sanipac has been assured No. 1 and No. 2 plastics will be on the final statewide list in 2025. “We’re taking a small step forward to what will already be included in the statewide list,” Donaly said.
SB 582 directs the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission to create an official list of material that can be put in comingled recycling bins, as well as what items producers must collect themselves. Producers will be forced to fund things such as local processing infrastructure, which would reduce the impact of commodity prices on the process.
“This idea that we’re going to have a comprehensive recycling program that’s statewide that doesn’t rely entirely on markets and doesn’t rely entirely on taxpayers, that there’s that component of producer responsibility. I think that is how we’re going to get where we need to be,” said Eugene Waste Prevention Program Manager Deveron Musgrave.
Musgrave said No. 1 and No. 2 plastics are a significant portion of the trash people are generating in their homes, and adding them back to their bins gives people a sense the recycling process is returning to a pre-2018 normalcy.
But it was a decision that was dictated by commodity markets, not the environmental need for waste reduction.
“As exciting as it is we’re able to add some plastics back in, Senate Bill 582 is really the big story here,” she said.
But it will still be years before any Oregonian benefits from the law, and until then the market will drive recycling.
“The implementation is going to be long, but we’re going to be doing it right,” Marzano said.
Waste prevention and recycling tips
State law requires cities with populations above 4,000 people ensure recycling services are provided to all curbside garbage customers. Some cities, such as Cottage Grove and Springfield, franchise with a single collection company. Others, like Eugene,have more options or, like Junction City, provide collection through a public works department.
Residents of unincorporated areas can bring their recycling to any of 15 Lane County transfer stations. Some communities, such as Florence, offer recycling roundup events, providing opportunities to assure items that can’t be placed in comingled curbside recycling, such as No. 5 plastics, will find their way to processing facilities.“There is an outlet for that. There are groups that are still doing those collections,” Marzano said. Plastics collected through those community programs are generally taken to Denton Plastics, a Portland recycler.
The Lane County Recycling Guide offers these tips on reducing
Sanipac Senior Accounts Manager Aaron Donley holds up a plastic container that is not accepted for recycling during a tour of the Eugene EcoSort Facility on June 16. BEN LONERGAN/THE REGISTER-GUARD