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Lane County suspends recycling most plastics, food cartons: 'When in doubt, throw it out!'

China plans to suspend imports due to contaminants that make their way into the recycling market via household co-mingled recycling bins. BRING Recycling blames it on "wishful recycling" - throwing items into the bins that actually can't be recycled locally. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - Lane County will no longer accept any plastics except clear milk jugs due to China's restrictions on imports of recyclable materials, effective Saturday, the county said Friday.

Also barred from recycling: Milk cartons and aseptic cartons for products like juice, soup and soy boxes.

The change is unrelated to the strike by members of the AFSCME union, the county said.

"Lane County is currently unable to market these materials due to a forthcoming ban on imports of mixed recycled materials into China," the county said in a statement. "These changes are temporary. We hope to resume collection of these materials in the coming months as markets adjust."

China announced a ban on the importation of all post-consumer plastic and paper, set to begin in January 2018, according to Oregon DEQ.

"China’s actions are in response to high levels of contamination in materials being received; closure of polluting mills that use imported materials; hazardous recycling practices; and China’s intent to develop its own domestic recycling systems," according to DEQ.

The contaminants make their way into the recycling stream via household curbside recycling. Customers should check with their garbage service for information about whether this change impacts their curbside recycling.

"Contaminants include accepted items that are too dirty and items that are recyclable somewhere, but not this program," according to DEQ. "Food, liquids, oil, and hazardous chemicals can contaminate paper and other materials in recycling, making whole batches of materials collected in recycling trucks unusable."

Sorters hand-pick through comingled recycling in an attempt to remove the contaminants, but "a lot of the contaminants slip through," according to DEQ.

That includes plastic “clamshell” to-go containers, plastic bags, food soiled items, and other unwanted items.

"Materials like plastic bags, plastic film and garden hoses can jam and damage the

mechanical equipment that separates different types of recyclables, and those items can fall through and end up getting packaged in bales," according to DEQ.

Local non-profit BRING says households should follow the rule: "When in doubt, throw it out!"

"One of the biggest problems with plastic recycling is that people often put things that aren't recyclable in their curbside bins, hoping that someone will find a way to recycle it," according to BRING. "This 'wishful recycling' is a leading reason why China is now rejecting commingled recycling."

So what can you do? Lane County offered this advice:

Continue to recycle plastic milk jugs. “HDPE #2” plastic that is cloudy/off-white in color is still a valuable plastic.

Recycle your plastic bags at local grocery stores. Safeway, Albertsons and Fred Meyer all participate in a national program to recycle plastic bags into composite lumber at factories in the United States.

Recycle your beverage containers at grocery stores or the BottleDrop Redemption Center (2105 W Broadway, Eugene). Oregon’s bottle deposit system refunds 10 cents for each water and carbonated beverage container.

Reduce & Reuse! Recycling is good, but it is not the only, nor the best, action you can take. Reducing the products and packaging you buy will conserve far more energy and natural resources. Look for bulk options and reuse your plastic containers. It will often save you money!

Recycle right! Recycling works when we send good quality resources for re-manufacture. The Chinese import ban is due to the level of contamination in imported resource streams. Please do not “recycle” anything other than what is described as recyclable on signs or instructions. You can find more information about recycling at www.lanecounty.org/waste.

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