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Customer-Facing Contamination Reduction

Sections 28 and 39 of the Recycling Modernization Act (section-by-section summary) requires DEQ to:

  1. Establish statewide recycling contamination reduction goals, evaluate the relative cost-effectiveness of different educational programs and other methods for reducing recycling contamination, and establish and maintain a list of approved contamination reduction program elements, among other requirements (Oregon Revised Statute 459A.929).
  2. Establish forms and procedures for commingled recycling processing and recycling reload facilities to evaluate and describe levels of inbound contamination (Oregon Revised Statute 459A.959)
DEQ is planning to develop a Request for Proposals to be issued in late fall 2022, soliciting research work necessary to evaluate potential interventions in contamination caused by generators. For more information and to stay current with important dates, sign up for text or email updates via GovDelivery.

What is recycling contamination?image of recycling contamination

Recycling contamination is made up of both non-recyclable items and recyclable items that are dirty or unsuitable for a particular recycling stream. Common contaminants that cause problems in Oregon's recycling programs include plastic bags, film plastics, liquids, food, soiled packaging, plastic clamshells, garden hoses, wire hangers, textiles, diapers, electronics, and batteries. Some of these materials can be recycled separately, but they cause significant problems when mixed with other recyclables in commingled collection systems.

Contaminants cause problems all along the journey of recyclables throughout the system. Food, liquids, oil, or hazardous chemicals can contaminate paper and other materials in recycling bins making whole batches of materials compressed in recycling trucks unusable. Once recyclables arrive at a material recovery facility or “MRF," trained sorters hand-pick most contaminants out of piles of recyclables, but a lot of contaminants can slip through the sorting process such as clamshells, plastic bags, and food soiled items, among others. Materials like plastic bags and garden hoses can also damage or get stuck in the mechanical equipment that separates different types of recyclables. Importantly, contaminants create health and safety hazards for the people working in these facilities.

The presence of contaminants in materials collected for recycling has emerged as a major waste management issue since the widespread adoption of commingled “single-stream" collection systems where all recyclables are placed into a single bin or cart for recycling. Learn how to reduce contamination in recycling on DEQ's Recycle Right web page.

Contamination can be a cause coming from product design, collection systems, individual decision making, sorting technology, marketplaces for recovered materials, and more.

Reducing generator-facing contamination under the Recycling Modernization Act

While contamination happens throughout recycling, this project is targeted for inbound contamination, defined as inappropriate or dirty materials arriving at a material recovery facility or a common collection facility. Inbound contaminants enter the recycling stream when consumers, businesses, and institutions (generators) mix them with acceptable materials in recycling containers. While many types of remedies might contribute to reducing contamination, the generator-facing contamination project will focus on remedies for inbound contamination. 


Arianne Sperry
Project manager

For more information about the Recycling Modernization Act projects visit our Recycling Projects page.

View Oregon Revised Statutes 459A.929 and 459A.959.