Update on Recycling Changes

By Holly Hummel, RA Treasurer

The recycling world is in turmoil over the changes prompted by China’s unwillingness to import what we call recycling and what they call trash. Many of us are what you might call “wishful” recyclers. As long as it went in the recycling, we felt like we were doing our part. The staggering statistic quoted by Steve Law of the Portland Tribune on October 26, 2017 is that 8.9% of what homeowners put in their recycling is trash and 21% of what apartment dwellers put in their recycling is in actuality trash.

I heard on OPB’s “Think Out Loud” that  thousands of pounds of dirty diapers have to be hand sorted out of the recycling. Also, hand sorted out are used syringes, dog poop bags, rotten food, you name it. So, the upshot of all this is that we are contaminating our recycling with trash which the Chinese don’t want, and really, who would?

So, at the same time as the purity of our recycling has gone down, so too has the commercial value of recycled products. The price of oil is down, so it is often less expensive for factories to use virgin plastics rather than recycled plastics. Also, with newspaper readership down, there is less of a market for our paper products. See the USA Today link. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/04/20/weak-markets-make-consumers-wishful-recycling-big-problem/100654976/

Maybe we can regard this more as a wake-up call to consider what we are consuming and the waste we are creating. And, to consider what we put in that blue roll cart. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability sends out a guide to recycling. Find a detailed list at www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/carts or call the Curbside Hotline at 503-823-7202.

The Oregon DEQ is convening industry leaders to find solutions such as finding alternative buyers for plastics and mixed paper. Metro is telling us to continue to put recyclables in the blue roll cart so that when alternative markets are found, they will be ready to sell them our recyclables. Maybe this is our shot to get it right this time around.

So, please be extra careful about what you put in the blue roll cart. If you have any doubt, please throw it out. Being a “wishful” recycler just isn’t working. The less contamination in the loads, the more likely it is that our recyclables will find a new life. Here are a few quick tips for things that cannot be recycled in your blue roll cart:


Single use coffee cups – this ties into our 2017 Bring Your Own Cup Campaign. We estimate that in excess of 50 MILLION coffee cups are trashed in the Metro area each year. Please join us in bringing your own cup!
Plastic grocery bags
Plastic lids
Plastic toys
Prescription bottles and any bottles without a neck
Glass – these go out separately
Compostable dishes and flatware
Freezer containers
Butter cartons
Plastic clamshells
Paper napkins
Paper plates
Popcorn bags
Take out containers
Plastic containers under 6 oz
Light bulbs
Drinking glasses