Part 2: Recycling crisis hits home

Medford, Ore. — “Reusing things is wonderful. It saves the planet. It also creates jobs which is also very important,” Owen Grush said.

Owen Grush has lived in Ashland for 10 years.

For him, recycling has always been very important.

But with China’s proposed import ban on certain recyclable materials like mixed-waste paper and plastic, experts say the most cost effective option is to temporarily put those items in the landfill.

“I would hope that’s not the case because the whole purpose of this is to recycle. It’s not to create more dump,” Grush said.

There’s plenty of space in the landfill, but that’s not why Brian Fuller with the Department of Environmental Quality says it’s upsetting those who like to reduce, reuse and recycle.

“We’re not recycling just to keep this stuff out of the landfill. It’s a commodity. We’re providing a feedstock or a commodity for industry to use when they make new goods for us,” Brian Fuller said.

Fuller says recycling offers a lot of environmental benefits like reducing the use of natural resources such as energy and petroleum.

Last year as a whole, recycling contributed to reducing greenhouse gases by 870,000 co2 equivalent tons.

That’s the same as taking 200,000 average cars off the roads in Oregon.

Fuller says China’s ban could cost us some of those gains.

Blake agrees most would prefer to recycle before throwing something in the land fill.

That’s why Recology Ashland is looking into other options.

“We believe that we’ve got a good opportunity to continue recycling, but it’s gonna certainly be at a higher cost,” Recology Ashland’s Gary Blake said.

Blake says his franchise is looking into a material recovery facility in Northern California that would potentially go to different markets around the globe instead of China.

According to Fuller, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia are other markets to consider and Oregon can handle some of the load.

“Oregon is lucky in some regards that we have markets here for metal, glass, cardboard and some plastics,” Blake said.

Fuller says the United States currently doesn’t have the capacity to handle all the recyclable material.

He expects domestic markets to improve as a new infrastructure is built, but that will take time.

Grush certainly hopes the United States will step up and create new methods for recycling materials.

“I believe in ethical capitalism and I think this can potentially create new jobs because we’re gonna have to dispose of this, and it’s also gonna stimulate people to find new ways to use all this recycling,” Grush said.

In the meantime, the public can help through practicing proper recycling habits by following the list of acceptable recyclables.

“My hope is this will be a wake-up call to people to make sure they’re putting the right things in their curbside bins. If in doubt, find out. If you’re not sure if something is recyclable, ya know, check with your service provider and make sure,” Fuller said.

Right now, collectors, aggregators and material recovery facilities can request for materials to be land filled with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Meanwhile, the DEQ will be monitoring what global recycling markets are doing.

Then after six months, each facility land filling recyclable materials will need to report back to the DEQ on a monthly basis.

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