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Oregon to study ways to boost plastics recycling

By: Jim Johnson

September 10, 2013

Oregon is planning an assessment of used plastic in an effort to determine whether recycling rates can be bolstered.

The state captures about 50 percent of its PET beverage containers, according to 2009 statistics from the Container Recycling Institute, thanks to a bottle bill.

But there is much more that could potentially be done in the wide variety of plastics, said Peter Spendelow, recycling specialist with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

“When we look at all the plastics out there, obviously massive amounts are not being recycled, that we don’t have any program to collect for whatever reason,” he said.

So the state is currently accepting proposals for an examination of the state’s plastics disposal and recovery efforts.

The idea is to help determine what can be done to increase plastics recycling across the spectrum.

“We thought it would be a good idea to look at that to see what are the barriers stopping us from recycling things,” Spendelow said. “We know there are a lot of things that make some things difficult to recycle. We thought maybe there are things we could be getting more of, things like polypropylene and products, for instance. We just don’t have a lot of product recycling. It’s mainly packaging recycling. So that’s what we want to investigate.”

The plastics disposal and recycling study will be conducted as part of a larger Plastics Recovery Assessment Project the state has initiated. Oregon’s closer look at plastics comes as the state adopted a vision and framework for action for materials management in 2050.

“There’s a lot of potential to get a lot more plastic. It also is very possible that we will simply determine there is a good reason a lot of this stuff isn’t being collected because there’s so many different varieties that you can’t get enough of a single type other than the general commodity plastics that are currently being recycled,” Spendelow said.

“We do a very decent job, a great job on recycling PET bottles,” he said, adding the state also does a decent job recycling rigid plastic containers compared with other states.

But Oregon wants to examine all of the plastics that are making their way into landfills to see if there is a way to increase diversion.

“We’re not quite sure exactly what it’s going to look like,” Spendelow said, as results of the assessment will help determine what actions the state will take.

“We’re trying to look at materials beyond just the normal solid waste end of life, looking at them over their whole life cycle,” he said.