Oregon regulators have received more than a dozen requests from companies that want to throw recyclable materials into landfills, and they're expecting more as China cracks down on waste imports from the U.S.
Oregonians love to recycle, so it makes sense that we're still putting paper and plastic into our recycling bins week after week.
"The problem is it has nowhere to go," said Julie Miller of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. "Recycling centers are filling up with material."
Until recently, China has been the world’s largest importer of recyclable paper and plastic. Northwest companies depend on Chinese buyers to take a huge portion of what we put out on the curb.
But earlier this year, China announced a ban on these waste imports. That's leaving Northwest companies without buyers for recyclable items they've already collected.
So far, 14 of those companies have asked the state for permission to send it to landfills.
"People will reach out to us and say we’ve reached this serious capacity issue. Do we have permission to dispose of the materials right now?" Miller said. "We’re really looking at this case-by-case, and when there is no other opportunity to recycle the materials we are approving the disposal."
Officials say China's ban stems from chronic problems with contamination in the recycling materials coming from the U.S.
There's so much trash mixed in with our recycling that no companies in the U.S. will buy the material. China has been willing to buy the stuff that had no market in the U.S. in the past, but those days are over.
Miller said the state hasn't approved any requests to dispose of recycling yet. Four requests have been withdrawn because new buyers have been found. The state is still reviewing 10 requests to make sure there's no other option besides the trash heap.
While recycling companies are looking for new buyers for recycling materials that used to go to China, officials say Oregonians can help by putting only the correct materials in their recycling bins.
No more "wishful recycling," they say. In other words, don't put things into the recycling bin in the hopes they will be recycled. Find out what items are accepted by your local recycling company and stick to that list.