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Low oil prices affect plastic recycling

Many of us in the Rogue Valley save up our plastic bags, plastic clamshell packaging, plastic lids, etc. to recycle at an event normally held in May and October called the Plastic Round-Up. This spring's event was canceled some time ago. We learned it is related to the drop in the price of oil. I'd like to know how this relates to the plastics and when we can expect this event to happen again. Many of us have plastic piling up since we don't want to go back to tossing it in the garbage.

— Liz, Jacksonville

Your information is correct, Liz, that falling oil prices contribute to difficulties in recycling those types of plastics.

Recology Ashland Sanitary Service, which handles garbage and recyclables, has created a flier to explain why the Jackson County Recycling Partnership had to cancel the spring Plastic Round-Up.

"One of the main factors is record low oil prices," the flier states. "The low fuel prices you may enjoy when gassing up your car or paying natural gas bills have some downsides. The cheap petroleum makes the use of virgin oil more attractive for plastic manufacturers instead of choosing recycled plastics to make new plastic 'stuff.' "

Other factors at play include a global glut of plastic recyclables, a slowdown in China's economy and a 2013 decision by that nation to crack down on the amount of poorly sorted and dirty shipments of recyclables other countries ship to China, according to Recology.

China's move to implement "Operation Green Fence" is meant to make sure the country doesn't become a dumping ground for the world's trash and contaminated recyclables.

Unfortunately, there's no way to know when the local Plastic Round-Up can resume, especially since the trends influencing recycling are expected to continue into the future, Recology said.

In the meantime, consumers can avoid buying products packaged with plastic that is difficult to recycle. They can also let stores and manufacturers know they like the products, but not the packaging, Recology recommends.

And don't just toss plastic bags, lids and other items not allowed in curbside recycling bins into those bins. That contaminates the recycling stream, jams up machinery and makes it even more difficult to market recyclables accepted in curbside bins.

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