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Sorting out plastic recycling glitch

Diligent recyclers must read coding labels on package


In a jolt to Portland’s green psyche, China — not usually known for its environmental sensibilities — put the kibosh on accepting some of our dirty, unsorted plastics for recycling.

That caused a dilemma for an increasing number of green-minded families and community organizations in the Portland area that were stockpiling plastics that can’t be recycled at the curbside, then bringing them periodically to Far West Fibers, the area’s leading repository for hard-to-recycle materials.

Far West Fibers' service was particularly helpful for Portlanders, who only get trash pickups every other week. Miscellaneous plastics can take up lots of space in a garbage can, and are the third-highest-volume item in Oregon landfills.

Far West Fibers had made plastics recycling easier, and more extensive, by allowing practically any kind of plastic to be accepted at its six metro-area depots.

Now that’s a little harder.

Due to new Chinese environmental restrictions, Far West Fibers can’t commingle and bale miscellaneous plastics as it once did for shipping to Asia, says Vinod Singh, the company’s Beaverton operations manager. Portland-area residents and organizations that have been bringing plastics to Far West Fibers’ six depots will have to go back to reading labels carefully, Singh says, to sort out what’s recyclable and what’s not.

The good news is that his company, as well as many local grocery stores, still accept plenty of plastics that can’t go into curbside recycling bins.

Far West Fibers still accepts:

• Clear clamshell containers — often used for restaurant carry-outs — with No. 1 PETE on their label

• No. 2, No. 4 and No. 5 plastics, which often include plastic drink cups, cat litter buckets, amber pill bottles, baby wipe containers and Tupperware

• Lids from those containers if they have a No. 4 or No. 5 label

• Large rigid plastics, such as children’s plastic toys, lawn furniture, crates and storage bins

Far West no longer accepts most other plastics, including plastic bags, unlabeled containers or those with No. 3 or No. 6 and small rigid materials.

Folks at the Metro Recycling Hotline advise Portland-area consumers to think twice now before buying plastic forks, straws and other items, which must be trashed after one use.

New Seasons groceries still accept many plastic clamshells and plastic bags. Many other grocery stores also accept plastic bags, though it’s best to check with their rules.

Also, don’t forget to check with your city’s solid waste authority to see what you can recycle at the curbside.