041118-adh-nws-Pioneer Recycling01-my (copy)

Workers at Pioneer Recycling Services pull trash out of items recycled at the facility in Clackamas.

The days of easy recycling in the mid-valley appear to be gone. 

Over the years, we've been lulled into a sense that recycling is as easy as tossing stuff that we thought should be recyclable into the commingled bin. Then, someone comes along once a week to haul it away, we pay a few bucks extra for the privilege, and — voila — we're all Earth heroes.

The bad news is that we've been recycling a bunch of stuff that isn't really recyclable. We used to have a margin of error for that stuff. Now, though, the margin of error is gone.

A story by Jennifer Moody in Sunday's newspaper explained what happened to our days of easy recycling: China, which had been taking in more than half of the world's recycling, declared that, beginning this year, it would no longer accept most plastic containers or any recycled paper with a contamination level above 0.5 percent.

That's a big part of the reason why prices for recycled items have nosedived: Fewer items are being accepted and processors are struggling to find buyers for what's left.

It doesn't help matters that processors have to work extra these days to sort out garbage that isn't recyclable.  Ropes, hoses, chains, plastic bags, yard waste, Styrofoam and clothing are common offenders that show up in recycling carts. But they're not recyclable. When they show up at processing plants like the one Pioneer Recycling Services runs in Clackamas, workers just fish them out and send them along to the landfill. You could save everybody a lot of trouble just by throwing those away yourself.

You also could make certain that the material that actually is recyclable is clean and dry and ready to go: Junk mail, greeting cards (without foil or glitter), newspapers, phone books, paperback books and paper bags can be recycled. So can steel (tin) cans and aluminum cans if they're clean and without their labels. Plastic jugs and bottles can be recycled, but only if they're plastic type or 1 or 2. (The number typically can be found at the bottom of a container; numbers 3 through 7 cannot be recycled.)

What it all means is that we have to take a little more care in the material we place in the commingled recycling bin. We might need to wash out items that we just tossed in before. We're likely going to have to pay a little bit more for our recycling. 

All that is a little annoying. But measure that against the annoyance (and cost) of opening another landfill. You can do that calculation yourself — and once you do, we suspect you'll be willing to do just the little bit of extra work that now is required for smarter recycling.

In the meantime, we understand that some readers were confused by a graphic that ran with our story on Sunday. So we've attached a summary of what can be recycled (and what can't) to this editorial. Feel free to cut it out and stick it on your refrigerator. (mm) 


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