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February 2007

Oregon’s rigid plastic recycling rate declines

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) reported that the recycling rate for rigid plastic containers dropped in 2005 to 24.3 percent and the recycling rate projected for these containers in 2007 will remain below 25 percent.

This is the first time that the recycling rate has fallen below 25 percent since Oregon began calculating the rigid plastic container recycling rate in 1993.

As part of the 1991 Oregon Recycling Act, the Oregon Legislature passed a law setting a 25 percent recycling rate mandate on these containers to help jump-start the recycling of plastics. According to the law, any rigid plastic container sold in Oregon must meet at least one of the following three criteria:

  • Contain at least 25 percent recycled content;
  • Be made of plastic that is recycled in Oregon at a rate of at least 25 percent;
  • Be reusable (refillable for at least five times).

Certain containers, including medicine containers and food containers other than beverage bottles, are exempt from the above requirements.

By law, packagers have a one-year grace period in which to prepare to meet the state plastic container requirements, so the earliest that DEQ can enforce the recycling requirements will be 2008.

The decline in the rigid plastic container recycling rate can be attributed to two main factors, according to Peter Spendelow, DEQ solid waste specialist.

First, the sale of water and juice in plastic bottles is increasing while soft drink sales are declining. No-deposit water and juice bottles have much lower recycling rates.

Secondly, increasing amounts of plastic are being used to make tubs, trays and other types of non-bottle containers. Most curbside recycling collection programs collect only plastic bottles, so the tubs, trays and clamshells often are not recycled.Legislative proposals to add water and other beverages to the Oregon Bottle Bill could push Oregon's plastic recycling rate up to close to 30 percent, according to DEQ's projections.

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