FAQ's and Background on Current Recycling Climate

Thank you, Master Recyclers, for fielding those tough questions about the current recycling climate and keeping our community inspired to recycle.

Here are some FAQ’s to help you out:

“When will we get to recycle the ‘extra’ recycling at depots again?’

Short answer: It is unknown when companies will make a profit collecting hard-to-recycle plastics that were accepted at depots and grocery stores.

There are still some options for non-curbside recycling. To find out about them you can contact Metro at 503-234-3000.

Background: The recycling community is currently focused on stabilizing our curbside collection system. Oregon law defines “recyclable material” as “any material or group of materials that can be collected and sold for recycling at a net cost equal to or less than the cost of collection and disposal of the same material.”

For the first time in the 25-year history of the Oregon Right to Recycle Act, materials that are listed as ‘recyclable’ in the curbside system cost more to recycle than to landfill. So, by legal definition, there is no such thing as a material that is recyclable right now.

Meanwhile collection rates in the state are structured with the idea that recycling will subsidize garbage collection. Today garbage and recycling collectors have to pay processors to take their recycling. This change is a major disruption of the collection system and must be stabilized. The DEQ has been convening meetings with stakeholders to address the crisis.

“Is it true recycling is being landfilled?”

Short answer: A lot of materials Oregonians are accustomed to recycling are now headed to the landfill. Depots and many jurisdictions in the state of changed what they accept as recycling. It is hard to throw materials away that we are used to recycling.

But there are only isolated incidents in Oregon where materials that were properly sorted for recycling are now in the landfill. Companies had to get permission to landfill the material.

Background: Many jurisdictions in the state are concerned that the high cost of recycling will undermine their ability to collect garbage for their communities. For this reason, there are many communities that have been informed that recycling collection is discontinued. In these cases, materials that the community is used to calling ‘recycling’ is being landfilled.

In the metro region, the list of accepted materials is not changing. Local jurisdictions are instead proposing to local officials to raise the rates of collection to pay to keep recycling.

 Aseptic Carton

Aseptic Carton

In Oregon, companies cannot landfill materials that were properly separated for recycling unless they formally request permission from the Department of Environmental Quality. Since the recent recycling crisis, there have been some cases where DEQ has concurred that material can be landfilled. The tonnage amounts to less than 2 percent of all collected recycling and most of is not curbside recycling.

In our region, there are two areas where such a variance has taken place. In unincorporated Multnomah County Corbett area, the garbage and recycling company made the case that they cannot afford to recycle curbside materials and so all curbside recycling is mixed with garbage and landfilled. Pioneer Recycling in Clackamas County is permitted to landfill Milk cartons and Aseptic boxes. This means that these two materials might be going to the landfill if you live in the South and East parts of our region.

“I am not sure it is worth recycling anymore if they are just throwing it all away.”

Short Answer: Recycling is still the right thing to do. It is an important way to conserve trees, water and energy and to reduce mining, pollution and climate change. Properly recycled materials in our region are getting recycled because we opted to pay for it. All materials that are collected for recycling must be recycled unless a company gets permission from the State to landfill it.

“What can I do”

 Is this really at tub? When in doubt throw it out. 

Is this really at tub? When in doubt throw it out. 

  • Keep recycling.
  • Recycle only what is on the list. This is critical to stabilizing our system! When in doubt, throw it out or find out by calling Metro at 503-234-3000.
  • Be conservative with some of those grey-area materials like square-shaped, clear or flimsy tubs and questionable paper products like butter containers or tea bag wrappers. Toss them if they are not exactly like the picture or list of items on the list.
  • Explore new ways to reduce, reuse, repair, share and fix.

Next month we will focus on long-term ideas for strengthening our recycling system.