COOS COUNTY — Changing market regulations in the recycling industry have caused drastic changes to the items disposed in recycle bins, as well as raised the price of garbage services.
Members of the public have made many calls to the Coos Bay garbage service Les’ Sanitary Services in response to the changes. Some are upset with the price increase, some are upset with the lack of marketplace for previously recyclable material and others are wondering why their plastic bags of recycling are being left on their curb instead of being picked up on trash day.
Les’ offers a simple solution to those who have recently had plastic bags pulled from their bins and left on their curbs and that’s to stop putting recyclables in plastic bags.
“Stuff that is in plastic bags we can’t accept because we know there may be some good recycling in it, but for the most part we find a lot of contaminates in these plastic bags,” Les’ Sanitary Service Site Manager Bill Richardson said. “We don’t know what’s in them and we don’t have the time to sort through every plastic bag. My driver has 1,100 stops a day. Since this cleanup effort started he’s been exceeding 12 hours a day.”
Richardson proved his point by grabbing a random plastic bag from a residential recycling load to reveal bits of food in the bag with the materials.
“The more hands that have to touch this material before it’s able to go anywhere, the higher the price is going to be to take care of it,” Richardson said.
Garbage prices have increased five percent countywide, because more time is spent sorting materials brought in to the West Coast Recycling and Transfer Center. Starting Jan. 1, loads of recyclable material being shipped to the Chinese market must first be inspected and have a contamination rate of 0.3 percent.
It’s important to note that our local garbage service does not take these materials to market directly. Les’ brings our county’s materials to a Material Recovery Facility in Vancouver, Wash., called Columbia Resource Company. Material Recovery Facilities have drastically raised their prices because of the extra sorting they have to do to make the materials marketable. The less contaminated our recyclables are the less our garbage service will have to pay to deliver our materials.
“Everybody thinks we’re getting rich off recycling, but that’s a misconception. It’s a cost, and we have to provide it to any city with a population over 4,000 by state law. This material has to get cleaned up otherwise it’s going to end up in a landfill and we do not want that. We want to be good stewards of our customers and of the earth,” Richardson said.
According to Richardson it takes three workers eight hours to sort through one truck full of recycling.
Many are arguing that new markets for these materials must be found, and material recovery facilities are searching are searching desperately for them.
“They’re constantly looking for new markets and starting up new systems somewhere, but all of that stuff is going to take time. You don’t just build a factory overnight. They’re looking into different countries, like Vietnam. They’re looking into building facilities on the east coast, but all that stuff is going to take time,” Richardson said.
Coos County doesn’t have the resources or the materials to find their own markets and sell off the materials used.
“The amount of material our county produces is small compared to the big picture. If we tried to sort every piece of material that comes here and find a market for it ourselves we wouldn't produce enough material to market. For example if we said we wanted to take all the milk jugs out and separate those, it would take us a year to collect enough milk jugs to make one truck load. So, it’s really not feasible to do,” Richardson said.
According to Richardson, Jackson and Josephine County have shut down all recycling operations as a response to the market change.
Les’ has made an effort to educate the community, by sending out fliers to all its customers and advertising on the radio.
“If we leave it in your bin, it’s either bagged or contaminated,” Richardson said.