Rigid plastic container recycling in Oregon
Rigid plastic container recycling in Oregon got its kick start thanks to a comprehensive recycling and waste reduction law enacted in 1991 (Senate Bill 66). In the few years following passage of the law, most Oregon cities added mixed plastic bottles to their curbside recycling collection programs. Years later, other rigid plastics, such as tubs and pails, would also be added to collection programs statewide.
The typical municipal curbside program in Oregon collects plastic bottles mixed in a large recycling cart along with cardboard, other paper, and tin and aluminum cans (glass is collected separately). Prior to China's 2018 ban on the importation of mixed waste plastic and paper from other countries (aka National Sword), a majority of Oregon's programs also collected plastic tubs and pails. Most plastic beverage containers (typically PET) are recyclable under Oregon's Bottle Bill.
At the height of National Sword, many other Asian countries would follow China's lead, also strongly limiting the importation of plastics and mixed paper from other countries. Unfortunately, the impacts of National Sword resulted in many Willamette Valley and Southern and Eastern Oregon programs eliminating the curbside collection of certain HDPE and PP rigid containers, due to the poor economics of collecting and transporting what was then considered to be low-value materials to the greater Portland area for processing by materials recovery facilities (MRFs).
The below chart shows the tons of rigid plastic material collected and recycled from Oregon each year since 2001. Rigid plastics recycling collection ramped up steadily through 2014, when it peaked at 30,692 tons of material recycled. In 2017, the year before National Sword took effect, the state recycled 29,773 tons of rigid plastic material. However, once National Sword transpired, the tonnage of rigid plastics collected and recycled decreased by 13.2 percent, to 25,856 tons in 2018. That decrease in recovery would not last long, though, as 29,857 tons of rigid plastic containers were collected and recycled in 2019, up 15.5 percent year over year and 27.7 percent from the decade prior.
In the same manner that SB 66 positively impacted the recycling of rigid plastic bottles and containers across Oregon, the recycling of rigid plastics will also see a boost from the 2021 enactment of SB 582, The Recycling Modernization Act.
The shared producer responsibility scheme, scheduled to come online July 1, 2025, will establish several efforts that will benefit the recycling of rigid plastics in Oregon. For example:
- A uniform statewide collection list for curbside collected materials, which will bring back into the system plastics that were eliminated in many Oregon communities – due to National Sword – and possibly add new rigid plastic materials as well.
- Require the producer responsibility organization to provide for the drop-off and mobile collection of materials not suitable for curbside collection (e.g. small-format rigid plastics, such as pill bottles and lids).
- Statewide recycling goals for plastic packaging and food serviceware:
- 25 percent by 2028;
- 50 percent by 2040; and
- 70 percent by 2050. The goal for 2050 is not enforceable.
It should be noted that, on or after January 1, 2038, the statewide plastic recycling goal may be adjusted based on consideration of environmental, technical, and economic conditions. However, such an adjustment may not change the goal to less than 35 percent or more than 70 percent.