In a sudden reversal from what state environmental officials had expected just three weeks ago, it now appears that recycling rates of rigid plastic containers in Oregon will exceed state-mandated levels, preventing harsher sanctions from taking effect in 2008.
Oregon law requires companies to switch resins, use 25 percent recycled content or seek a temporary exemption from compliance by reducing container weight whenever the state's overall recycling rate drops below 25 percent.
After initially projecting the aggregate recycling rate for 2006 and 2007 would fall below the state-mandated 25 percent, the recycling rate for both years is now projected to be ``between 27 and 28 percent,'' said Peter Spendelow, solid waste specialist in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, in an April 24 telephone interview.
When the final 2006 numbers are calculated, Spendelow said the state expects it will have recycled 1,800 more tons of plastics compared with 2005 - thanks to larger volumes reported by specialty recyclers and a rise in curbside collections of plastics as more communities shift from 15-gallon bins to 60- to 90-gallon roll carts. The original projection for 2006 had been for an increase of 400 tons in plastic containers collected and recycled.
``It surprised me,'' said Spendelow. ``I wasn't expecting curbside to go up nearly as much as it did. Our original projections suggested that the downward trends in collection in 2004 and 2005 would continue, and that everything would stay below 25 percent.''
He said the analysis of data submitted in the first three months of this year led to the revised upward projections for 2006 and 2007.
The new calculations do not include the potential impact of an amendment to the state's 36-year-old bottle bill, which would expand the law to include water and flavored-water bottles, in addition to soft drinks. That measure passed the Oregon Senate on April 23 by a 23-7 vote and is expected to move quickly through the House, where it has bipartisan support.
``There is a lot of momentum for it,'' said one legislative aide. ``The push is on to get the bill passed quickly.''
DEQ predicts adding water bottles to the current bottle bill will boost the recycling rate of those bottles to 62 percent from 32 percent, and boost the overall rigid plastic container rate by 5-7 percentage points. It also would almost double the number of water bottles recycled annually in Oregon to 115 million and cut the number of bottles landfilled from 126 million to 70 million.
Spendelow said the state expects that final numbers will show 1,500 more tons of plastics were collected curbside in 2006 than in 2005 due to the implementation of roll-cart programs. Beaverton added a roll-cart program in 2006, Forest Grove switched to roll carts this year, Gresham is adopting them in August and Hillsboro in September.
``Beaverton, Gresham and Hillsboro are the largest cities in the state after Portland, Salem and Eugene,'' said Spendelow.
DEQ also projected that specialty retailers would collect 800 tons more than had been projected for 2006 - 500 tons of it from a single company that had not reported its volume for 2005.
DEQ's projections are preliminary, with the final report to be issued April 30 at a public hearing in Portland.
A failure to meet the state-mandated recycling rates would have presented challenges to plastic container makers and companies that package their products in them. Short-term, the new projections alleviate that condition. But long-term, those manufacturers must prevent the recycling level from again dipping below state-mandated levels.
``We need to address the questions surrounding recycling, find ways to increase the recovery of materials and work with DEQ to make sure the recycling rate stays above 25 percent,'' said Pat McCormick, a principal in Conkling, Fiskum and McCormick Inc., a public affairs, communications and research firm. The Portland firm, which represents 11 associations, had asked DEQ to change some definitions of what constitutes recycled materials.
DEQ statistics indicate that close to 20 percent of containers, or 1,700 tons per year, are sorted improperly and end up being thrown away. ``Recycling all the plastics collected is the highest priority,'' said McCormick, who represents Washington groups the Soap and Detergent Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association. ``We can't have recycled plastics ending up in landfills.''