Oregon, which two years ago was on the brink of falling below the state-mandated recycling rate of 25 percent for rigid plastic containers, has achieved its second-highest recycling rate since the program started 15 years ago.
The 30.1 percent recycling rate for 2007 was just one-tenth of a percent below the high reached in 2001. What's more, despite the current downturn in prices for recycling materials, including plastic, state officials project the rate will continue to increase which is encouraging news to companies in need of recycled plastic.
In 2007, Oregon recycled about 39.8 million pounds of rigid plastic containers, two-thirds of that coming from curbside collection with the rest almost equally divided between material collected by bottle-bill distributors and specialty commercial recyclers that recall flower pots, furniture and other large plastic items. That compares to 35.4 million pounds collected in 2006.
``We project that the rate will remain high and possibly go even higher in 2009 in spite of the collapse in prices paid for recycled plastics'' the past four months, said Peter Spendelow, solid waste specialist in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
``We expect [specialty recyclers] to curtail their plastic collection to only those plastic items which have the best markets and are easiest to collect since [they] are now getting paid very little for that plastic,'' Spendelow said in an e-mail.
Although that could reduce the material those recyclers collect in 2009 by 3.6 million pounds, according to the report, it would be offset by increased collections of an estimated 4.4 million pounds, Spendelow said.
He estimated that the addition of water bottles, as of Jan. 1, to the state's bottle-deposit program could boost the volume of PET bottles collected through deposits by 2.4 million pounds, and almost double the recycling and redemption rate for PET bottles from 33 percent to 60 percent. Similarly, he said the roll-cart program launched last year in Portland could increase the plastics collected at curbside in the state by 2 million pounds in 2009.
``We do not expect to see any similar drop in the curbside programs and the bottle-bill recycling because the public and businesses that actually return or set out their plastic for recycling are not affected by the market price for plastic, so they should continue to recycle in much the way they do now,'' Spendelow said.
The report noted that there will be a continued decline in the number of soft drink containers redeemed through deposit programs as the industry's market share continues to decline. But it estimated that the number of rigid plastic containers used in Oregon rose 18.4 percent between 2005 and 2007, and that increases in recycling due to adding water bottles to the bottle bill and further expanding curbside recycling ``will outweigh the declines due to lower prices paid for plastic and reduced returns of soft drink bottles.''
``The reduction in the prices paid for recycled plastic should have little effect on plastic recovered under the bottle bill,'' the report said. ``Bottle-bill plastic is much cleaner and less contaminated that most post-consumer plastics collected through other methods, and so it commands a premium price and is easier to sell in depressed market conditions.''
The contamination level of material collected in Oregon by bottle-bill distributors is only 6.42 percent, compared with a 10.8 percent contamination level at curbside, according to the report. The estimated contamination level of material collected by specialty retailers is 7.22 percent.