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It's the first rate increase of the decade. The stated reason is a diminished world market for recyclables.

FILE PHOTO - Mixed plastics are among a lengthy list of products that the Chinese government has announced it will no longer accept from overseas or will significantly restrict. Local recyclers are feeling the pinch with one of the world's largest recycling markets all but closed.Pressure from China is the named culprit behind increases in Cornelius' recycling collection rates.

Temporary increases to both the residential and commercial collection rates for recycling were formally requested last month by Cornelius Disposal Service Inc., which provides solid waste collection services throughout Cornelius.

In a letter to City Manager Rob Drake sent on July 20, Cornelius Disposal wrote, "The Chinese government has taken three significant unilateral actions that have completely disrupted the global market for recovered materials. … With the changes from China, the U.S. market is overwhelmed with recovered plastic. Most of the collected plastics that were being exported now have no market outlets. The markets for #3 through #7 plastic bottles, tubs, and rigid plastic has disappeared."

This year, the Chinese government stopped accepting mixed paper and plastic imports, imposed far more stringent requirements on scrap metal imports, and banned the import of certain other types of solid waste that China had previously accepted.

Cornelius Disposal requested that the Cornelius City Council approve a 15.22 percent increase to what it charges commercial customers for commingled recycling, as well as a $2.65 monthly increase for residential customers with recycling carts, effective Sept. 1. The council assented on a unanimous vote at its regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 6.

The rate increases approved Monday are set to expire at the end of August 2019, although with a new rate request expected next year, Cornelius Disposal customers might not see much, if any, relief once they do.

That additional rate hike is not being proposed at this time because, as Drake put it in a memorandum to the City Council, Cornelius Disposal "wanted to avoid too large of an increase in rates at one time."

"If the recycling market had not collapsed, Cornelius would have required approximately a 5.8 percent increase for collection," Cornelius Disposal stated in its letter to Drake last month, noting that collection rates in Cornelius have remained static since 2009 even as Cornelius Disposal's overhead costs have risen. "The combined collection rate increase, as well as the additional cost of processing recycling, is significant; therefore, the management at Cornelius Disposal is requesting only an increase to offset the cost of recycling at this time."

What happens with the recycling market hits domestic waste handlers like Cornelius Disposal hard, said general manager Dawn Lucinio, who addressed the council Monday.

"We're vulnerable to those that purchase our product," Lucinio said.

In neighboring Forest Grove and Hillsboro, recycling collection rates have also increased recently, with the changes to China's trade policy blamed there as well.

The July 20 letter from Cornelius Disposal to Drake painted a sobering picture of how the Chinese government's about-face has affected the U.S. recycling market.

"As the overseas markets have decreased, the value of the collected recyclable materials has also decreased," the letter read in part. "The value of cardboard has decreased by 50 percent compared to 2017. Mixed paper, which is the largest commodity in the residential material stream, is no longer a viable market. China created the market for mixed paper, and now China no longer wants mixed paper. Sorting facilities are picking out the newsprint from the mixed paper because it has value and a domestic market, while the rest of the mixed paper is now classified as residual waste."

Even still, Cornelius Disposal predicted that the recycling market will stabilize, even if it takes several years to do so.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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