Rules changing fast for what’s accepted, what’s not, in recycling bins

Sean C. Morgan

As Chinese regulations are driving a recycling crisis in Oregon, companies are paying higher costs for recycling, and their list of recyclables allowed in comingled recycling bins is changing rapidly.

Sweet Home Sanitation Site Manager Scott Gagner issued a new list of acceptable recycling this week in an effort to improve the purity of the recycling.

Sweet Home has probably 5 to 10 percent contamination in its recycling, Gagner said. By contrast, China’s new regulations permit just .1 percent to .5 percent contamination. Oregon, as a whole, on a “very good day” might reach .5 percent.

Sweet Home has quite a bit of “wishful recycling,” items people think might be recyclable but are not, Gagner said. At this point, he advised, “when in doubt, throw it out.”

The cost to recycle has gone from being a revenue stream to about five times the cost of putting the material in a landfill, Gagner said. While the number of items that are recyclable falls, Gagner is looking at ways to keep recycling efforts going.

He met with Mayor Greg Mahler, an owner and manager at Hoy’s Hardware, to talk about paint. Sweet Home Sanitation has applied to begin recycling paint to help take the load off of Hoy’s Hardware.

At this point, Sweet Home Sanitation is on a waiting list to begin the service.

In the meantime, Gagner is asking Sweet Home residents to keep an eye on the list, which will be available at the business, 1325 18th Ave., and will be enclosed in sanitation bills. The list also is available at The New Era and on the web at

“I plan on updating this quarterly,” Gagner said. “I’m constantly getting new information as well. It’s important we get it right so it’s ending up in the right place.”

When the recycling gets to facilities overseas or at home, it can cause problems when the materials are not actually recyclable, Gagner said. That’s what’s driven China’s crackdown on contaminants. In nations like Vietnam, and historically in China, it is simply burned.

At this point, many think it’s best to just put it in a landfill, Gagner said. Sweet Home Sanitation and parent company Waste Connections have a goal to be green and recycle, but “unfortunately we’re not being allowed to.”

Gagner noted that the recycling signs in the transfer station are out of date at this point, and he will begin adjusting them and taking them down soon. For example, cardboard is no longer baled. A new container is available for loose cardboard.

Among changes in comingled cans, paper milk and juice cartons are no longer accepted. Plastic has become more limited, and customers should put only No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, PET and HDPE, containers in comingled recycling cans after they are cleaned. That includes fizzy drink bottles, frozen ready meal packages, milk bottles and soap liquid bottles.

Not allowed are plastics Nos. 3 through 7, which include food trays, cling film, mineral water bottles, shampoo bottles, carrier bags and bin liners, margarine tubs, microwavable meal trays, yogurt containers, foam meat trays, hamburger boxes, egg cartons, vending cups, plastic cutlery, protective packaging for electronics and any other plastic that does not fall into the previously mentioned categories.

Also not allowed are wire, rope, chain, Christmas lights, flower pots, medical waste of any kind, fabric of any kind, garden hoses and wood.

Shredded paper, even in paper containers, has joined the list, Gagner said. It causes problems for machinery at sorting facilities.

Accepted is newspaper, including ads and inserts; corrugated cardboard; direct mail; cereal, cracker and shoe boxes, chipboard; office paper, including copier and printer paper, file folders, note paper, computer paper, brochures, magazines and catalogs; steel (tin) cans and aluminum cans; soda bottles, water bottles and milk jugs; orange juice bottles and jugs and detergent containers; and cleaning solution bottles.

For more information, call Sweet Home Sanitation at (541) 367-2535.