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 standards and reporting requirements for regional recycling facilities.
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 recycling is improperly sorted at a sorting facility, it can make it impossible for materials to be recycled, and have a negative impact on people and the planet if materials end up being shipped to places that may not be equipped to safely dispose of the materials.
High-level data collected in 2019 found that that 28% of all recyclable materials processed by regional sorting facilities are sent directly to destinations in Asia. Unfortunately, the true percentage of recycling products being sent could be higher, but current regulations only require sorting facilities to report on the first step in the process for recyclable materials, which may be bought and sold multiple times before ultimately being recycled or sent to a landfill.
Current licensing requirements for facilities sorting recyclable materials do not include quality goals to require proper sorting. Current licensing standards also do not provide Metro with enough information to ensure that materials go to destinations that meet the Metro region’s values for responsible disposal or recycling. Metro is launching an effort to create new quality standards and reporting requirements for Metro-licensed facilities that sort recyclable material and to collect more data on where the material goes and on the working conditions for the people who work at these facilities.
These improvements are part of a larger effort to modernize greater Portland’s recycling system, and meet the goals outlined in the Regional Waste Plan, the consensus recommendation of the Recycling Steering Committee and the proposed Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act SB 582-A currently being considered in the 2021 Oregon legislative session.
How will this help create a more adaptable recycling system?
After sorting and processing, recyclables are sold to manufacturers across the United States, North America and the world. These markets fluctuate, and that can have a big impact on whether or not recyclable materials are responsibly recycled.
A key goal of the Regional Waste Plan is to ensure that after sorting, recyclable materials are of the highest quality so that they can be recycled responsibly, regardless of market fluctuations.
Developing new quality standards and reporting requirements for regional sorting facilities is a first step towards building a more adaptable and responsible recycling system.
Who will benefit from these new standards?
Developing new quality standards and reporting requirements for Metro-licensed sorting facilities will protect the environment, and increase transparency, so greater Portland residents can be confident that recycling is being managed responsibly and that less of Oregon’s trash is polluting oceans and communities near and far. And it will help level the playing field for the recycling facilities, by ensuring that everyone is held to the same standards.
The data that is collected as part of this process will also be used to help develop future standards that build equity into Metro’s recycling system so that workers – like those who sort recyclable materials – have safer working conditions and living wages.
What are the next steps?
Metro is in the process of developing and collecting initial data, which will inform the development of new performance quality and reporting requirements.