Should you recycle that?

Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

With the ban of imports on paper and plastic that China announced in January should we keep recycling the same amount or do we need to rethink what we’re able to recycle?

“The U.S. exports about one-third of its recycling, and nearly half goes to China,” NPR mentions while discussing the new announcement. 

Part of the reason China announced it’s ban is due to the amount of recyclables that they weren’t able to recycle. Many of the items they would receive were either non-recyclable items, or they would be dirty which was becoming a health hazard. 

Now the United States has to figure out what to do with all of the recycling they collect and they are running into the same problems that China previously had. Items that should never have made it into the recycling bin are now just sitting in piles because it is seen as garbage and cannot be reused or recycled. Many companies are having to send their recycling to landfills because they have no use for it.

Recycling companies across the United States have already started changing the rules for what's allowed to be recycled and some are adding additional bins specifically for paper in order to help with the sorting process.

Here in Oregon, there have already been changes made. However, many people are not aware. “As of April 10, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had granted 21 disposal concurrences,” WasteDive mentions in a recent article. This means that not all of the items we think we are recycling are actually being recycled, they’re going to landfills. 

In January, the Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association released an updated list of what items can be recyclable. 

Items able to be recycled include: Newspaper, corrugated cardboard, magazines and catalogs, junk/direct mail, boxes (cereal, cracker, cookie, and shoe), office paper, steel tin cans, aluminum cans, plastic beverage bottles (12 ounces or larger and clean with lids removed), plastic jugs (clean with lids removed). 

Items that should not be included: Aseptic packaging (all milk, juice, soup or similar boxes or cartons), scrap metal, plastic tubs (salsa, margarine, cottage cheese, hummus, etc.), yogurt cups, planting or nursery pots, and 5-gallon buckets. 

A growing number of companies have adopted this list though there are still some recycling programs that are accepting more.

Not only have programs adopted these new recycling regulations but soon they might also implement rate increases. Portland could soon approve a $3 per month increase for households that would become effective May 1, and increases have already been approved for some programs in Gresham, Klamath County, and Albany.

So the next time you go to toss the empty yogurt container into the recycling bin remember that it could be the reason your entire recycling bin ends up in a landfill. If we’re able to properly sort our own recyclables we will be helping the recycling programs sort through everything quicker and in turn have more of our recyclables actually be recycled rather than being another pile of trash.