Oregon Plastics Rate Dips; Concern Over Recycled
Oregon’s recycling rate for rigid plastic containers (RPC)
has declined in 2002 to the point that it may not make the 25%
recycling rate required under the state’s 1991 recycled
content law. Preliminary figures indicate that recycling of RPCs
declined from 15,534 tons in 2001 to about 12,430 tons in 2002,
which is 24% lower. Overall preliminary plastic recycling numbers
are down by 3% from last year.
Observers suggest there are several reasons for the decline in
plastics recovery. Among them are the recent introduction of reverse
vending machines and the growing trend of mix-material collection.
The recycling rate for RPCs has always remained well above 25%
in Oregon, in part because of the state bottle deposit, and because
most programs are collecting most RPCs. The 2001 recycling rate
was estimated at 31.4%; the lowest rate was 27.1% in 1993.
Oregon’s law, like California’s SB 235, requires
that if manufacturers do not meet the 25% overall rate, then individual
manufacturers are on the hook to use 25% post-consumer recycled
content in all RPCs, or source-reduce 10% over five years, or
make them reusable.
Unlike California, which has amended its law several times, the
Oregon law applies to a much broader set of containers. There
is an exemption for food, medical food, and drugs. However, there
are no exemptions for beverages, various clamshells, DOT hazardous
materials and cosmetics as there is in California. Also, companies
cannot average their recycled content across the entire company
line of products in order to comply.
In order to determine the recycling rate for RPCs, the state
uses not only the state annual recovery survey, but also it performs
a waste composition study. The study actually pulls every fourth
container, cleans it, removes other residue, and re-weighs to
subtract items (left over contents, labels, caps, etc.) that are
not counted as RPCs under the law. The residue has increased from
about 18% to 22% in the last few years.
For 2002, RPCs went from 1.51% of the waste stream to 1.71% by
weight, but overall generation of waste declined a bit because
of the recession, sources noted.
However, material that is recycled is not tested for residue
- the state presumes about 5% of what is collected will be residue
on containers that go for recycling.
Since it will be “close” to the 25% rate for 2002,
Peter Spendelow with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
tells SRLU that his department will probably have to go back and
study actual residues from recovered containers to get a more
Unlike California, where staff recommends actions to the Integrated
Waste Management Board, all decisions in Oregon are left to the
DEQ staff on this program.
Spendelow says that if the result is close, within a margin of
error, the state will not likely attempt to enforce the recycled
content part of the law, as that is staff-intensive. Spendelow
acknowledges that there is not currently adequate staff to fully
enforce this law on all companies potentially affected.
However, if the rate is obviously below 25%, he says the state
will move to enforce the RPC provisions. For example, he suggested
they would look at companies using containers that are exempt
under California’s law but not Oregon. The Oregon law does
not require companies to keep records on recycled content for
years the 25% recycling rate was met, nor try to enforce the law
in arrears as in California.
Once it is determined the rate has not been met, the state must
wait 12 months to start enforcing the law, and companies need
only show compliance for that waiting period year. For example,
if the 2002 rate fell below 25%, companies would only have to
show they used recycled material in 2004, and the state would
start enforcing in 2005.
California has attempted to enforce its recycled content law
on about 1,500 companies, and is still struggling with some firms
to get full cooperation. California currently meets the 25% overall
recycling rate because the state expanded its bottle redemption
program to cover most containers. However, attempts to expand
Oregon’s historic bottle deposit law have failed.
Covered containers: Any plastic container with the equivalent
of holding eight ounces up to five gallons, sold in the state,
even to commercial enterprises. This includes plastic bottles,
boxes, baskets, crates, trays, and flowerpots sold containing
The law does not cover removable lids, labels, bags, films or
over wraps, or tamper-resistant parts of the package.