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Sunrise Enterprises recycle manager Steven Buckley walks toward bundled materials waiting to be transported in Green in January. Douglas County, along with Sunrise Enterprises, will suspend all recycling efforts effective June 1.

A Chinese ban on plastics recyclables, along with bottlenecks in the supply chain for plastics and other recyclables, have led to a nationwide crisis in recycling that’s about to reach your local landfill and garbage hauling service.

Effective June 1, recycling company Sunrise Enterprises will suspend all recycling of plastic and paper in the county. And the county landfill and transfer stations will stop taking plastic, along with newspaper, paper, glass and cardboard on that date.

The landfill will continue to accept yard and wood debris for composting and the Roseburg Transfer Station will continue to accept tin, aluminum, batteries, oil and appliances.

Soda bottles and other items covered by the Oregon bottle bill can still be turned in at local grocery stores and at the Bottle Drop redemption center in Roseburg.

Sunrise Enterprises CEO Shane Kalar said this isn’t just a local problem, and the issue is much bigger than a decision by the Douglas County commissioners.

China is the biggest importer of plastic recyclables in the world. Ultimately, that’s where most of the plastic turned in by Douglas County residents has been sent, after first being shipped to processors in Portland and Washington that sort all the recycling material.

China has given up on taking plastic recyclables, primarily because Americans have been sending them what they call “dirty” plastic.

The root of the problem is that Americans have been contaminating their recyclables by turning in types of plastic China hasn’t been accepting for a long time, mixed in with the few types of plastics they do accept, Kalar explained. Sunrise had asked customers back in 2013 to stop turning in plastics labeled any number other than 1 or 2, because they couldn’t sell the rest anymore.

Here and other places around the country, people kept on turning in the wrong plastics, though, and that’s what makes the recyclables “dirty,” Kalar said.

He calls that “hopeful recycling.”

“They don’t know what symbol it is, but it’s plastic and so they put it in there, hoping that it’s recyclable. That is actually the contaminants that really do the damage,” he said.

The county faces similar problems to the plastic issue with other types of recyclables. People who turn in cans with food left inside or collected into plastic bags have contaminated the supply, and glass recycling is plagued by an oversupply that means counties have had to pay recycling companies to take them and in many cases cannot find a company to take them at all.

The Douglas County Public Works Department Thursday afternoon issued a press release asking county residents to dispose of recyclables at the landfill and transfer stations as refuse, along with other household waste. But they said they encourage citizens to continue separating recycling from garbage, in hopes this will be a temporary situation. They are urging residents to check with their local waste disposal company to find out what changes they plan to make for handling recyclables.

County Commissioner Chris Boice said the county is continuing to seek a solution to the problem.

“We’re very disappointed about the fact that this is happening. It’s outside of our control and we’re working diligently to try to figure out ways to continue recycling products because we understand the importance of it,” Boice said.

Sunrise will not be closing its doors and none of its employees will lose their jobs, Kalar said Friday morning.

“I think the impact of what the public sees us doing is obviously pretty large, but we actually will still remain an employer of about 220 people and continue our other operations,” Kalar said.

The company will continue to take used household items like clothing, shoes, toys, electronics and pots and pans. Those can be dropped off at any Sunrise location. If they can’t resell them locally, they have buyers who will take them and recycle them.

“Even something like a single shoe (because) the dog ate the other one, believe it or not, there’s somewhere to send that and it won’t wind up in our landfill,” he said.

Kalar said he does not think this will be a short-term problem. It will take awhile before there is a solution to the recycling crisis. When a market does return for those items, it’s likely recyclables being turned in will be much more strictly monitored.

Oregon law requires that separated recyclables be reused or recycled. Local governments, collectors and industry representatives are working with the Department of Environmental Quality to obtain the necessary permits to dispose of recycled items in the landfill, the county’s press release said.

The DEQ acknowledged the scope of the problem caused by the ban, and says on its website that for now, “landfilling these materials on a temporary basis is an unfortunate but needed option.”

Donations of recyclables have continued to pour in as Oregonians’ commitment to recycling remained strong, according to the DEQ. The agency’s website said the state is following the ban closely and continues to seek solutions to the problem.

“Maintaining and protecting the environment are part of Oregon’s identity, and DEQ is committed to protecting the integrity of Oregon’s reuse and recycling systems. During this uncertainty, the state will experience short-term challenges, and DEQ will continue to encourage recycling as much as possible,” it said.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(15) comments

nr77

Am wondering why the Commissioners chose not to share this earlier, the public gets notified less than a week before it takes effect, with no input? Seems to be a very odd disconnect between them, us, and Roseburg Disposal who is a big part of the local recycling effort and not even quoted in this article. As important as recycling is worldwide and as much as our county has an extensive history of recycling efforts they really dropped the ball on this one. To be told to put it all in the dump, but separate it first in case something changes seems pretty strange, and since we weren't notified until now pretty disrespectful toward the citizens they work for too. To be followed the next day by an article outlining what Roseburg Disposal will recycle, suggests they have not been working together like they used to in years past and should have been now. This sounds like a blanket decision by the Commissioners to get out of the expense of recycling, while blaming it on the Chinese paper and plastic markets. The public should have had the opportunity to give input and possibly voted to save some of our recycling program somehow, such as nominal fees for the option to recycle glass and paper at the dump like we have to pay for trash disposal, had we been given a chance. Their personal decision does not represent what the public wants and forces all of us to finish topping off our landfill faster and push the debt down the road to trucking it all out in the future. Very disappointed and disgusted with the Commissioners poor decision and lack of transparency on such a huge subject.

st paddy

no more china to the rescue

nr77

The revised story is better than the first, but they forgot to list mattresses and tires again. We need to have the details on those two items. As for the glass, I read the going rate is $18-$20 a ton to have the glass trucked out, but right now Corning glass in Portland has a cleaner and huge supply from the bottle recycle centers. So, Douglas County, run it through a grinder and turn it into pebbles, then use it for gravel at the landfill like some other counties do. Compost the paper products, and give us bags to collect the cheap plastics to turn into diesel. Just putting it all in the landfill is not acceptable.

pwchoices

Just when everyone on the planet thinks there is no hope or solution to the plastic problem, 3M, Dow Chemical, Weyerhaeuser, or some other company will announce to the world that they've solved the problem. America went to the moon, plastics shouldn't be an issue.

Mogie

Here is a good link on how to reuse plastic bottles. Takes a minute to load because their is a picture with every idea: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/30-mind-blowing-ways-upcycle-plastic-bottles-home-and-the-office.html

nr77

There are some great ideas, thanks for sharing!

Mogie

I am afraid we are going to see more people burning trash and dumping illegally. Going to check the internet for ideas for reusing more things like plastic containers. If they do start recycling again we will have the same problem with people recycling stuff that isn't accepted mainly because they are lazy and want to save a few dollars. All it takes are a few people to mess it up for everyone.

S

Once again . . . Douglas County gets the leadership it deserves with stupidity overflowing at the Courthouse. No public meetings to discuss options or explore alternatives? Not only will residents now be required to pay for additional refuse disposal; we will be paying landfill closure costs much quicker. Maybe one day the people of this community will tire of settling for the egotistical and arrogant pawns purchased to occupy the corner offices at the courthouse. What will our tipping point be?

bohica48

There was an article in the NR about three years ago stating due to China's refusal to take certain recycles the county was only accepting # 1 & 2 plastics. Most of my neighbors still put the wrong recycles in their tubs at the curb. So the county knew ahead of time China was closing down their recycle program,
but apparently did nothing to find another venue. Maybe they're are no others. I just don't have enough resources to make a decision.

Rebecky

Bohica48, I agree with your statement that residents continually "recycle" non-recyclables. I have lived many places - big cities, small towns, and even overseas and I often question the recycling policies here. I have lived places where nothing is sorted, all recyclables go in the same collection bin. All places have had curb side pick up so there is a gate keeper, if you put something out that does not meet criteria it is not collected. AND there us no extra fee, it is included with trash collection. I must also point out that in all of those places NO ONE collected a year's worth of garbage in the back of a truck in their front yard. This place is an abyss...the lack of county leadership is seen at every level - just look around.

My point is I KNOW there are other ways to recycle in communities.

nr77

you are right and this blanket commissioner decision is ridiculous.

Momos

Our landfill will be closing soon. All garbage will have to be trucked out of the county. How much time will this move shave off the life of the landfill?

Garbage is going to get very expensive. But our commissioners would rather put all their efforts into this imaginary "War On Guns."

Rebecky

While I understand China is the supposed reason for this ban, we all have also played a role with not following the rules. The transfer station is usually pretty good, by many county residents use the Sunrise recycle centers as their own disposal company. Recyclables are sorted correctly, dirty items are put in the bins, and non-recyclables are dumped. I get so upset when I go to the recycle centers because of the complete disregard of center rules. So while this pisses me off, I am not at all surprised that it has come to this.

I think it is safe to say we can partially thank the lazy residents of Douglas county!

nr77

It sounds like the County needs to find a substitute market themselves to sell the paper, and look into sending the low grade plastics off to be turned into diesel, like Ada County in Idaho did recently. (See http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/community/boise/article208501359.html) Metals aren't mentioned in this local story, so is Douglas County going to continue accepting metals, and what about batteries, mattresses, etc. It's too bad there wasn't some public meetings and community input into this problem before this story was published. China's ban is on recyclable paper and junk plastics, not everything. It's time the County looked for alternate help besides Sunrise if they can't recycle anymore, it would be better than throwing it all in the dump.

Mogie

nr77 you had a very good comment the fact that there should have been public meetings before this happened. More recycling and reusing info could have been provided at those meeting to help educate us with new ideas and proper recycling methods.

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