Recycling helps reduce waste, use fewer resources and protect the environment for future generations. But Oregon’s recycling system was created decades ago – and it wasn’t built for what’s put in the bin today. As part of a larger statewide effort order to modernize Oregon’s recycling system, Metro is developing new quality and reporting requirements for regional facilities that sort recycling (such as aluminum cans and plastic bottles) from homes and businesses.
While Metro does regulate other facilities (including facilities that sort construction and demolition materials) that could benefit from quality and reporting requirements, requirements are not being developed for those facilities at this time.
Why is Metro developing these improvements?
It’s important that residents in the greater Portland area do their part to recycle responsibly, and keep things like plastic bags out of the recycling bin. But ensuring that recycling is sorted correctly at Metro-licensed recycling facilities is also essential to meet our region’s environmental and equity goals.
If recyclables are improperly sorted at a facility, it’s challenging to ensure that those materials will be recycled responsibly. Materials may be shipped to places that don’t have the infrastructure to manage them, which can lead to pollution in communities and waterways across the planet.
Currently, at least 28% of recyclable materials processed by regional sorting facilities are sent directly to destinations in Asia. Once those materials are exported, it’s difficult to know what happens to them.
Current licensing requirements for sorting facilities provide little information about what happens to recyclables, including where those materials are exported to and if they are turned into new products. Facilities also provide limited information about working conditions, including workforce compensation, safety and diversity.
This effort will help address these gaps by collecting more data from Metro-licensed facilities on where materials go and what working conditions are like, and will be used to improve requirements for these facilities. Facilities may experience increases in the cost of doing business in order to comply with some of the requirements under development. Related increases in residential garbage and recycling bills have the potential to be mitigated through the implementation of the Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act (Senate Bill 582).
Who will benefit from these new requirements?
The quality and reporting requirements will help protect the environment, ensure that recyclable materials are managed responsibly and secure good jobs in the solid waste system. And they will help level the playing field for recycling facilities by ensuring that everyone is held to the same standards.
This project also supports broader efforts to modernize Oregon’s recycling system, including the Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act, which was adopted by the Oregon Legislature in 2021. This new law modernizes Oregon’s outdated recycling system using an approach that includes producers, governments and the recycling industry.
What are the next steps?
All key stakeholders – including sorting facilities and communities most impacted by the project – will be invited to inform development of the requirements at important points in the process.
Metro will invite input from haulers, recycling facilities and other industry stakeholders to inform the research discovery phase. During the project outreach and engagement phase, Metro will offer additional opportunities for stakeholders to comment on concepts for new requirements. If new requirements are implemented through updates to Metro Code and/or administrative rules, there will be additional opportunities for feedback, including an invitation for public comment.