Below is a continuation from a previous blog from July’s City Club event Talkin Trash. More questions from you: answered! Denise and I tag-teamed these again. Do you have more questions? We love them — send them our way.

Are reusable bags better/more sustainable than paper? How cost-effective?!

Yes, reusable bags are better than paper bags. Paper bags actually require more energy than plastic to be made (and also contribute to deforestation in places) and do cost stores more than plastic. Plastic bags are made from a petroleum byproduct, but as we know they last forever in the environment. The benefit of paper bags here is that they break down eventually or are easily recycled. Paper bags have a bigger “upstream impact” and plastic bags have a bigger “downstream” impact.

The answer is to use the reusable bags you already have, and if you don’t already have some, every thrift store has some, so no need for new ones. I am personally disappointed that the 10 cent fee is going away because in the short week I saw it implemented at stores I witnessed many people carry out their groceries or put them back in their cart for unloading into their car. Meaning, 10 cents was actually enough to change behavior.   -denise

What happens to the stuff in the recycling that’s not supposed to be there?

All of our curbside comingled recycling gets bundled up into 2,000-pound bales at a facility across the street from 10 barrel. From there it gets sent to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where it gets cut apart and placed on the floor of a giant warehouse. It then gets sorted both by machines and by hand depending on the material. If the bales are too contaminated with trash, they can end up in the landfill. If it is minor contamination, it may still get through. However, the comingled recycling in the United States has been so contaminated that the overseas markets that used to take it now refuse. Because our recycling was so contaminated with stuff that wasn’t supposed to be there, much of those bales ended up in overseas landfills or, worse, in the ocean. The trash that is picked out by hand by people at the MRF gets sent to a local Oregon landfill. -Ani

What is the status of recycling economics in Deschutes County, i.e. can we sell our recycling to be cost-effective?

The global recycling markets continue to be volatile and changing.  There is currently a cost to recycle the materials listed on your recycling guide. It is important for our residents to Recycle Right and only include the materials that are listed on the recycling guide to help keep contamination at a minimum.  The commingle material is baled in Bend and shipped to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF’s), where the material is sorted and sent to market.  Any trash or other material that is not included in the recycling program will be disposed of.  -Ani

What percentage of the items put in [curbside] recycling containers end up being thrown out because they are not in fact recyclable?

The Oregon DEQ last did a recycling composition /contamination report in 2009 / 2010 and it indicated about 9%-10% of incoming commingled materials were contaminants and not supposed to be set out for recycling as part of the commingled recycling mix. -Ani

China is no longer buying recycling. Where is ours going?

All of our curbside comingled recycling gets bundled up into 2,000-pound bales at a facility across the street from 10 barrel. From there it gets sent to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Portland where it gets cut apart and placed on the floor of a giant warehouse. It then gets sorted by both machine and re-baled into like materials and sold as commodities. As far as we have learned, Deschutes County’s recycling is actually getting recycled. Below is a list we received from the MRF where our recycling currently goes, although they wouldn’t disclose any company names to protect their clients and the competitive market. This is all the information they were currently able to give:

All Plastics – most stay domestic going different places within the US but some goes to Canada

Cardboard – stays domestic and goes to 4 different mills on the West Coast.

Mixed paper
– this includes office paper, catalogs, newsprint, junk mail, paperboard, and all paper other than cardboard — goes to other countries including Korea, India, and Indonesia. It is made into recycled paper rolls and also lightweight box board.

Glass – when recycled curbside gets sent to a company in Portland called Glass-to-Glass. There, the crushed and comingled bits of glass get sorted by color using an optical machine that tests for clarity! It’s amazing. Then most of the sorted glass gets sold down the street to Owens-Illinois where the glass is melted and made into new bottles.

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