What we know
Oregon is feeling the effects, and feeling them hard. Senator Ron Wyden even co-signed a letter to the Chinese ambassador requesting more dialogue in January.
Recyclers throughout the state have experienced challenges finding markets for material, with China effectively shut off as an option at the moment, and some have had to request disposal permission. As of Feb 14, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had granted disposal concurrences to 14 companies. DEQ emphasizes that these requests are only granted after "all other options are exhausted" and accounted for a very small percentage of recyclable material in the state. An estimated 6,107 tons have been disposed so far.
DEQ's broader priority is to move toward a sustainable materials management system, though that doesn't help address near-term challenges. To address the current crisis, DEQ has created communication material to share with all interested parties and is hosting regular stakeholder meetings on the topic. A large meeting is scheduled in Portland on Feb. 15. So far, the Metro regional government hasn't taken a position on any changes to recycling programs.
As this plays out, each of the state's major MRFs has experienced its share of trouble with contamination and stockpiling. In January, the Oregon Resource Recovery Association released a draft list of suggested materials for municipalities to include in single-stream programs based on feedback from processors. The hope is that this will help local officials have a unified message on education. Essentially it includes paper, cans and plastic bottles. Mixed plastics, aseptic containers and plastic bags are seen as particularly disruptive.
Medford has already limited its accepted materials to what is on ORRA's list. Salem has also discussed possible changes. Rogue Disposal, which services multiple municipalities, recently followed suit according to the Mail Tribune. The cities of Ashland and Talent aren't seeing any changes because Recology takes their material to California, as reported by the Ashland Daily Tidings. Milton-Freewater's curbside program was recently canceled due to market pressures, and broader legal issues related to the employment of disabled workers, as reported by the East Oregonian. Residents in Klamath County may also see curbside service cut due to price increases from Waste Management, according to the Herald and News.