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Business recycling requirements

Planning and conservation    Managing garbage and recycling    Business recycling policy

In September 2008, the Metro Council adopted a program to increase business recycling in the region.


Metro works with 25 cities and three counties in the Portland metropolitan area to meet the region's recycling and waste prevention goals. Since 1999, Metro and local governments have provided a free education and technical assistance program. Through the Recycle at Work program, Metro and local jurisdictions send recycling specialists to businesses to help them start or improve their recycling and waste prevention efforts. Progress has been made as a result of this program, but businesses still dispose of more than 100,000 tons of recyclable paper and containers annually.

Metro explored options for increasing business recycling by convening public and private work groups and through stakeholder outreach conducted from 2003 to 2006. More than 1,000 people provided advice on approaches to increase business recycling. The Metro Council, after considering the costs and benefits of potential approaches, directed staff to develop a required business recycling program.

Between February and May 2008, Metro met with local business groups and elected officials for their input on a possible business recycling requirement. The program and stakeholder feedback was presented to the Metro Policy Advisory Committee and the Solid Waste Advisory Committee between May and July 2008. Both advisory committees voted in favor of adopting the program. Metro Council formally adopted the business recycling requirements in September 2008.

To implement the program, all local governments in the region must adopt the recycling requirements through local code, establish a compliance program and report annually to Metro. Local jurisdictions had the option of developing their own local code language or could use model code provided by Metro. Some jurisdictions chose to incorporate the requirement into their business licensing program. Local governments that adopted the requirements are also eligible for funding from Metro to help support additional education and technical assistance. Funding allocations are based upon the number of employees in the jurisdiction and can be used for direct business assistance and resources, education and compliance.

Program elements

The program requires local businesses to recycle all types of paper and certain containers, such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass. Because most businesses already recycle, this requirement simply formalizes such practices. Businesses that do not currently recycle are asked to recycle the same items residents already recycle at home. And to help businesses recycle, local governments will continue providing education and technical assistance through the Recycle at Work program.

Learn more about the Recycle at Work program

How does a business comply?

Generally, a business or property manager complies with the recycling requirements by doing the following:

  1. Separating paper, cardboard and containers (aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass) for recycling.
  2. Ensuring there are containers for collection of these recyclables.
  3. Posting signs at collection areas, indicating which materials should be recycled.

Metro collaborates with local governments to identify challenges and opportunities for improvement in complying with the business recycling requirements, rather than focus on a penalty approach. To help businesses recycle, local governments will continue providing free education and technical assistance through the Recycle at Work program.

Why should businesses be required to recycle paper and containers?

Although many businesses already recycle, an estimated 14 percent recycle nothing or cardboard only. As a result, businesses dispose of more than 100,000 tons of paper and containers that could otherwise be recycled.

Metro's business recycling requirements are expected to divert at least 80,000 tons of that material from the landfill to recycling, which would result in an estimated $10.22 million in net environmental benefits. In addition, recycling 80,000 tons of paper and containers each year will result in greenhouse gas emission reductions equivalent to driving nearly 42,000 cars for one year.

The increase in paper recycling would also support paper mills in the Pacific Northwest. Currently, paper collected in the Metro region provides less than 11 percent of total paper mill needs; the rest of the paper must be shipped in from outside our region.

Are any businesses exempt from this requirement?

Local jurisdictions with fewer than 25 businesses and fewer than 100 people employed by those businesses are exempt from the requirement. The exemption relieves the administrative burden of enacting an ordinance for small cities that have very few businesses. The businesses in these communities will continue to have access to commercial recycling collection services.

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