Lane County leads Oregon in recycling but faces changes

Mark Newson of Pleasant Hill, Ore., who has been a Lane County recycler for over 40 years, drops off plastic at the Glenwood Transfer Station in Springfield on Dec. 21.

Associated Press

EUGENE (AP) — Only one Oregon county recycled more waste than it tossed as garbage last year.

Residents and businesses in Lane County, which includes Eugene, sent 258,370 tons to recycling, compared with 258,041 tons of garbage sent to a landfill, according to a state Department of Environmental Quality report released this month.

The three Portland metro counties were tallied together, so it's unclear if one of them might have joined Lane as a star recycler.

The statewide average was 42.6 percent of the waste stream going into recycling and the rest into landfills.

Local officials are not sure if Lane County can sustain its high rate. China, the world's largest market for recycled waste, plans to restrict its imports of recycled materials such as plastics and unsorted paper starting Jan. 1.

"The China thing is going hurt our (waste) recovery rate in respect to mixed paper," Sarah Grimm, a waste reduction specialist with Lane County, told The Register-Guard newspaper.

"The mixed paper blend — it can be office paper, file folders, things that are now coming out of households — it's all this paper that's coated with plastic, and that's not OK" under China's new requirements, she said.

In anticipation of the clampdown, Lane County has stopped accepting most plastic containers, plastic bags and aseptic juice and milk cartons for recycling.

Numerous garbage haulers also have stopped picking up those items as recyclables because big regional centers that sort the material are becoming pickier about what they will accept.

China has said the United States and Europe were sending too much recyclable waste that was contaminated with unusable materials such as dirty plastics and waste paper. Those materials then ended up in China's landfills. The nation says now it will let in only more carefully screened and sorted recyclable materials.

Plastics are among the lightest-weight recyclable materials, Grimm said, so its reduction in Lane County should not overly harm its waste recovery rate, which is calculated by weight. But, Grimm added, the precise impact won't be known until the restrictions have been in place for some time.

Last year, before China announced the restrictions, Lane County set a goal to recycle 63 percent of its waste by 2025.

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