Portlanders are eager to recycle everything they can, but not everyone is educated on what to do with their leftover consumables. Portland creates about 42 million pounds of waste per week, with the average person generating around 3,490 pounds of recycling, compost, and garbage per year. All Portland residents are provided with large blue bins for recycling, which tend to get filled with non-recyclable items such as dirty diapers and uncleaned yogurt cups. Portland citizens produce about 1,580 pounds of recycling a year, but only 59% is getting fully recycled due to regulations on recycling, making 41% garbage and grubby recycling.
Last year, China announced that they would no longer be buying the U.S.’s paper and mixed plastic pieces, resulting in delayed exports. China once was known for their heavy imports of waste materials, but due to recent strict restrictions, they have cut back heavily. Chinese residents have reached out against the pollution of their atmosphere, which was a result of being the Earth’s center of waste management. The contamination standard, meaning how much of the recycling could be dirty—or how much room for error there was—is now as low as .5%.
What makes something recyclable in Portland comes down to two factors. The first one is a company’s willing to buy the material and make it into something else. This factor is basic, and is sometimes the only one recyclers consider. The second, and less thought about factor, is if the recycled object is easy to separate from other materials. Certain small pieces of plastic are made of the right materials for recycling, but are too small to be separated from other groups of material. It is because of these pieces that the .05% regulation has to be enforced so much.
The Franklin Earth Club is trying their best to help with the crisis. In the past, there have been club members who specialized in making sure Franklin was recycling correctly and to the best of its ability, but they have decided they “should focus more this year,” says member Izzy Braman (12). In the next couple of weeks once the club is running, there are plans to get specific people to educate the community on the situation.
Recycling is one step towards saving the planet, but in order for people to recycle responsibly, they must know how to do it properly. The former chairman of the Association of Oregon Recycles, Pete Chism-Winfield, suggests consumers looking to reduce their ecological footprint must start by reducing their intake of ‘stuff.’ Stuff can be objects or clothes that have no significance to a person. He says consumers must reuse what they can— thrifted clothing, metal water bottles, and wash rags over paper towels. Only after all other options have expired, and a consumer is still left with waste, should they recycle. Once they get there, it’s important to educate consumers on what can and can’t be recycled.
Chism-Winfield reveals that measures are being taken to solve the crisis. The crisis initially started because Portland’s waste management system, along with many systems throughout the United States, turned reliant on China. Waste is now getting released to a more diverse list of places, as opposed to sending it all to one country. This advancement should prevent this sort of crisis from happening to Portland again.