U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer recently hosted a roundtable discussion to hear and learn from local and regional Portland officials as well as recycling industry experts about the impact changes to China’s recycling market has had on Oregon. Much of the discussion focused on the need for domestic markets. “I believe we need to be prepared to develop new markets here, new processes here, as well as explore other markets for exports as necessary,” Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said. “But there’s no reason why this national economy can’t do a better job of responding to this kind of crisis because these are valuable materials when properly separated, properly processed and made available for production.”

But the lack of domestic solutions wasn’t always an issue. Jeff Murray, of EFI Recycling, spoke about the evolution of the local markets, saying that years ago whenever a new material was added to collection programs, they made sure there was a local or regional market — if not at least a domestic market for the material. But during the 1990s, China began doing more with one machine than what two local paper mills could do. “Our mills started falling behind, we moved to co-mingling, our quality started going down, but China was willing to pay more for less quality and that began the downslide of some of our domestic options,” he said.

But with paper still making up around 70 percent of what’s collected from homes and businesses, Murray said he believes there’s still a potential for domestic mills in the Pacific Northwest — if only they became interested again. He said the other big issue is cleaning up the recycling overall, a concern echoed by others in attendance. Some said the region needs to invest in facilities and technology that can better sort materials. He also said the industry needs to be prepared as flexible plastic packaging — things like re-sealable pouches and bags for food, snacks and laundry detergent pods — becomes the future, which, despite its sustainability benefits, remains a challenge to recycle.

Read the full story at https://www.oregonmetro.gov/news/congressman-hosts-recycling-roundtable-metro.