The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Recycling or refuse?


January 10, 2018 | View PDF

SCOTT GAGNER, Sweet Home Sanitation site manager, points out a jug with liquid in it in a fairly clean pile of recycling. The liquid must be drained and the jug rinsed before being recycled.

Although they are impacting other communities, recycling bottlenecks created by new Chinese policies won't soon immediately impact Sweet Home residents, according to Sweet Home Sanitation Site Manager Scott Gagner.

"In March 2017, a new program went into effect called the National Sword," Gagner said. The Chinese government designed it to reduce smuggling and trash imports into China.

The program has drastically increased physical inspections at Chinese and American ports, Gagner said. "They started rejecting container loads in bigger numbers."

If one box is rejected, they send back all of them, he said. That's up to 20 containers per ship, and each container costs $3,000 to $4,000 to ship.

By September, estimates were that China was taking only one-third of the recycling material it had previously, Gagner said.

National Sword set a new standard of .3 percent, down from 5 percent, for contaminants in recycling, he said. That is a "phenomenally low" level, and it is easily exceeded by a variety of things people put in recycling, an empty pizza box for example.

Bits of cheese and food in the bottom of the box are considered contaminants, Gagner said. An entire pizza box cannot be recycled. To recycle part of it, he suggests cutting off and recycling the lid and throwing away the bottom of the box.

Similarly, other food containers should be rinsed and cleaned, with liquid and food residue completely removed.

Material reclamation facilities have added more people to sort recycling and cut their conveyor belt speeds, which increases the costs of processing recycling, Gagner said. The MRFs have not been able to process recycling quickly enough, and their storage spaces are full, "with a bottleneck of material waiting to get out. The pricing structure's been totally flipped on its head."

Sweet Home Sanitation last year reported that recycling has become an expense more than a commodity.

National Sword has intensified that, he said. "Nobody saw the effects until about June or July, but people are having trouble getting rid of the stuff."

In response, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has provided special orders allowing recycling to be taken to landfills.

Sweet Home Sanitation has been able to continue finding buyers, Gagner said, "so it's taken care of in a green way."

SCOTT GAGNER, Sweet Home Sanitation site manger, explains that the only thing recyclable in a filter is the cardboard around the edges. This filter was in a relatively clean pile of recycling Monday morning.

For now, it won't impact rates for Sweet Home customers, Gagner said. "We're unaffected right now. We produce a small amount compared to other companies. They've promised us they'll continue to take it for the foreseeable future."

Gagner doesn't know how things will turn out long term.

"We get updates from our buyer facilities," he said. "Nobody really knows whether China will relax it or continue. If China said, 'We're not taking anything,' it's a totally different ballgame."

Paper is primarily affected, Gagner said. Recycling is taken to an MRF, Pioneer Recycling in Clackamas, and sorted. Paper is sent to China while other recyclables are sent to various destinations, including China.

Glass is handled separately – and should not be put in the main recycling containers except on properties in the county outside the Sweet Home city limits. Rather, to recycle glass, in-town customers should request a separate bin.


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