China ban prompts Oregon county to suspend recycling program
- Douglas County, Oregon and its recycling partner, Sunrise Enterprises, will suspend most recycling services effective June 1, according to The News-Review and others.
- The county landfill and 11 transfer stations will stop accepting plastics, glass and various paper materials. One transfer station will continue to accept some metals, such as tin and aluminum.
- The county says this suspension is necessary because of hardships brought on by China's tighter recyclable material import policies and the resulting inability to find viable markets. The recycling program could resume at some point in the future if county staff are able to identify new markets.
Following China's materials ban and contamination standard tightening, dozens of municipalities across the U.S. have increased limitations on which recyclable items they will accept, with many eliminating certain materials from their curbside and drop-off recycling programs. Fiber is the main category taking a hit, with areas in Oregon, Idaho and Massachusetts among a growing list that have either approved temporary disposal waivers or ended collection of certain types of fiber — such as newspaper, shredded paper, beverage cartons and egg cartons. Haulers in other areas, including Vermont, endure extra fees that they're now passing on to consumers.
Despite all the China-induced turmoil within the recycling industry right now, Douglas County's action to entirely do away with its recycling program is relatively unique. Other local governments in Oregon have switched to drop-off, pared down their lists of accepted items or temporarily redirected material to landfills. Few have publicly declared a temporary or permanent recycling halt.
Oregon, Washington and other states in the West have been particularly hard hit by China's crackdown because huge portions — and in some areas, all — of their collected recyclables were sent to China for processing. The effects of China's actions certainly are felt throughout the entire recycling industry, but particularly in areas of closer proximity to China that in the past have had an easier time shipping material there.
Although Oregon law requires recyclable materials to be recycled or reused, the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is well aware of the hardships facing waste and recycling businesses. MRFs are dealing with material stockpiling and the DEQ is working through numerous disposal concurrence requests, of which it has already granted 22 for an estimated 10,000 tons of material.
Douglas County's action may not remain an isolated case. With recycling in a tailspin and the industry watching China for potential further regulatory measures, plus Vietnam's recently announced temporary halt to accepting scrap plastic, more U.S. cities and counties struggling to find homes for their collected materials could resort to similar program suspensions in the short-term.
Correction: A previous version of this article implied that collection of certain fiber grades has been suspended in some areas of Massachusetts. Temporary disposal waivers have been approved, but collection continues.
Follow Katie Pyzyk on Twitter