Plastics crash hits non-standard recyclables
Have you been carefully, conscientiously rinsing your non-standard plastic containers and storing them until you can haul a giant load to Far West Recycling in Hillsboro?
Don't expect to get past Far West's recycling guard.
Last month, the recycling company has stopped accepting plastics, including styrofoam, and has stationed someone at its popular dropoff area at 6440 S.E. Alexander St. to stop people from leaving such plastics.
"Everybody's getting turned away," said guard David Graham.
According to Far West officials, the market for recycled plastics crashed last month, leaving recyclers with little place to send their collected plastics.
What happened? Vinod Singh, outreach manager for Far West, puts it plainly.
"There's plenty of supply," Singh said. "There's just no demand."
China, the largest buyer of America's recycled plastic, has been turning America's used plastics into new packaging and goods for years, but the county recently put on the brakes, Singh said, and will no longer purchase plastics.
China was "the biggest consumer of plastics by far," Singh said, but the recycled materials the country was getting were too dirty.
Historically, China has been able to accept dirtier loads than other countries because of its low-cost labor and high-tech equipment. But the country is now requiring a contamination level of 0.3 percent or less.
That level of cleanliness is virtually impossible to achieve, stated officials from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in a Resource Recycling article.
"There was an initiative to clean up recycling, but it turned into a ban on recyclables," Singh said. "Essentially, there are limited markets for that material and they were the biggest market. With them not consuming anymore, everyone is trying to find other markets. But those are expensive, and diminishing quickly, because everyone is trying to get to them."
In addition, Chinese residents are producing more of their own plastic materials to recycle as wages in the country rise, creating less of a need to bring it in from elsewhere.
"Without them, the other markets have been inundated and are now to a point where they can't take anymore. It's an international issue."
It's not a total plastics blackout. Far West still accepts No. 1 and 2 plastic bottles if customers sort and separate them from each other. Yogurt tubs, milk jugs and other standard plastics that go in your curbisde recycling bin are not affected either.
But recycling diehards who store up unique plastics now have a lot of bundles with nowhere to go.
Singh said Far West is looking to find new markets and hopes to begin accepting plastics again in the future.
"In good conscious, we can't keep accepting materials that we don't have homes for," Singh said. "It's a market-based problem. We can't move it and can't say to keep bringing it in. We don't know that we'll be able to find a home, certainly in the short term."
The Portland-metro area Master Recycler Program encourages recyclers to return cans and plastic bottles for 10 cents each and call their local garbage and recycling companies for an official list of what they accept. It's also important for patrons to clean their recycled items because clean plastics are more marketable.
Also, most grocery stores still accept plastic bags. In addition, recyclers can check out oregonmetro.gov/findarecycler to find alternate companies and listings of accepted materials.