COOS COUNTY — Ten months after Chinese recycling markets began refusing any sort of contaminated materials, Coos County has been able to cut the contamination levels by more than 20 percent and even find local and domestic markets.

Reacting to market changes, Coos County waste management company Les’s Sanitary launched a successful education campaign that has changed the way the community recycles.

“It is not 100 percent yet, but as far as residential and commercial stops it’s gotten a lot better," said Bill Richardson, site manager for Les’s Sanitary. 

A year ago, Coos County’s contamination rate for its recycled materials was over 30 percent. According to Richardson, contamination is currently under 10 percent.

“They are doing a really good job," he said. "People knowing that they could lose the option to recycle put some fear in them and they start to understand that all of us have to do a better job or we could lose what we have going for us."

Most of the domestic markets that have opened up since the Chinese began refusing material with contamination levels above 0.5 percent are taking paper products.

“There are some domestic markets for newsprint and cardboard," Richardson said. "Mostly the one and two plastics are being sorted out, and are being shipped to India, Thailand, or Vietnam."

According to Richardson, a year ago 85 percent of Coos County’s recyclable materials were going to China and now China receives about five percent of our materials.

“What we’re doing is taking our material to a place called Eco Sort in Springfield, and they work with another company that sorts the cardboard out and bales it up," Richardson said. "Then it goes to different markets all over the United States."

Helping keep the markets open are folks who are aware of what they’re recycling and making sure it’s clean. If Coos County can’t keep its connection with markets, it will be forced to file a concurrence with the state allowing it to dump all recyclable materials into landfills. This is an action that Jackson County has taken as a response to Chinese regulations.

“If it gets contaminated to a point where they won’t receive it at their facility, then we can’t pick it up," Richardson said. "I don’t have a fear of that at this point. Through education, and people participating the way they should, we should be fine."

Les’s Sanitary has continued its recycling program here in Coos County at a loss of $90 per ton. Richardson said that Coos County produces around 75 tons of recyclables per week, which at $9 a ton is a loss of $27,000 a month.  

“It’s not a money maker by any means, it’s just a diversion from the landfill," Richardson said.

Richardson added that the price per ton has been stable at $90 for around six months now.

“It’s cheaper to take it to the landfill, but that’s not the way I look at things," he said. "I’m trying to save landfill space for the future of this world, and recycling is a good thing to do. It’s the right thing to do in my opinion, even at a cost."

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Nicholas A. Johnson can be reached at 541-266-6049, or by email at nicholas.johnson@theworldlink.com.