The news that China will halt imports of recycled materials is a setback for Oregon's efforts to keep solid waste out of landfills, but recycling is only one element of the state's waste-reduction strategy. Oregonians can continue to help shrink the waste stream in other ways.
Recycling efforts have come a long way in the past few decades, to the point that most communities offer curbside pickup of commingled recyclables, making participation easy — perhaps too easy, but we'll come back to that.
Residents served by Rogue Disposal, Southern Oregon Sanitation and Recology can leave their recyclable materials bin at the curb and metal, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard will be whisked to a sorting facility, bundled and shipped off to be made into new packaging material and other products.
For years, the market for recycled materials has been the biggest obstacle. Most recently, China has been accepting huge quantities of material, especially from the West Coast, because its manufacturers needed the materials to create new products for the American market, among others.
Recently, however, China has announced it will stop importing many recycled materials, instead developing its own recycling efforts and limiting contaminated shipments. Chinese manufacturers demand pure materials free of contaminants such as plastic grocery bags and Styrofoam. China has said it won't accept shipments unless they contain less than 1 percent contaminants — a very difficult threshold to meet.
So what does this mean for consumers? For now, not much — commingled recycling still will be picked up, although disposal companies may have to send some of it to landfills. In the long run, China's new policy might prompt U.S. investors to rebuild the domestic recycling industry.
The state's mantra for solid waste is Reduce, Reuse and Recycle — in that order. So everyone can help up front by paying attention to what they purchase.
Reduce the waste you create: Buying food commodities in bulk means less packaging. Taking your own reusable grocery bags when shopping means you don't bring home paper or plastic bags all the time.
Reuse what you can: Lining your kitchen garbage container with paper grocery bags means one more use for that bag before it's discarded. Using glass peanut butter or pickle jars as containers for bulk commodities keeps them out of the waste stream.
Finally, be more careful about what goes in the commingled recycling bin. It's easy to toss all kinds of things in that might seem recyclable but aren't. Rogue Disposal's website, www.roguedisposal.com, lists those items that should not go in your commingled bin, including plastic bags, lids and bottle caps, frozen food boxes and paper plates and cups.