Oregon hopes to revamp its recycling system by charging packaging companies

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A mixed recycling container.

Allison Frost / OPB

Packaging companies will have a financial interest in whether their materials are recycled in Oregon, under a major bill that passed its latest legislative hurdle Friday.

Senate Bill 582, one of the main environmental goals of the Democratic majority this session, passed the House by the narrowest of margins, 31-24. He cleared the Senate on a 16-to-13 vote – also a simple majority – and is now heading to Governor Kate Brown.

“With this bill, we have the opportunity to really make a difference and shift the dial on how much we recycle or how much we don’t recycle,” said state representative Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro. “We need to ensure that producers share their responsibility to help reduce waste. “

SB 582 requires producers of paper, plastics and other materials to fund new initiatives to collect and recycle more of their materials, whether through existing programs or new efforts. This includes paying for educational campaigns to help consumers better understand recycling, upgrading existing recycling facilities, and paying for things like trucks and new containers to help local governments expand their recycling offerings.

To fund these and other causes, producers would be required to join a “producer responsibility organization” that would charge fluctuating annual membership fees. A producer’s costs could be reduced if they decrease the environmental impact of their products.

SB 582 was one of many bills introduced by Democrats this year to help improve the state’s recycling rate for plastic, glass and paper. The push comes after new restrictions put in place by the Chinese government in 2018 narrowed the state’s options as to where it can send recycling materials to consumers, which often include “contaminating” or “contaminating” products. waste that cannot be recycled.

With these restrictions in place, thousands of tons of recyclable materials in Oregon ended up in landfills.

According to Richard Whitman, director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the additional costs to producers under SB 582 would be around $ 83 million per year starting in 2028, when new quotas for plastic recycling will begin. Most of the regulations would come into force in 2025.

“Right now, the cost of processing these materials is being borne by someone,” Whitman told lawmakers at a budget subcommittee on June 16. “Frankly, it is fully supported by the Oregonians and by the local government. This bill would bring producers into the system and make them pay part of the cost of handling these materials. “

According to Whitman, DEQ’s estimate of $ 83 million in new costs represents 28% of the total cost of handling recyclable materials in the state.

Advocates of SB 854 say it’s fair to demand that companies that make and distribute packaging pay to recycle it.

“It made sense to pass some of these costs on to companies using these products in their packaging,” Senator Michael Dembrow, Democrat of Portland and main sponsor of the bill, said during a Senate debate earlier this week. . “The industry could respond by absorbing some of the costs, passing some on to consumers and, ideally, finding alternatives that are more biodegradable and easier to recycle, which would help us all. “

But many producers balked at the bill, which they say creates new unnecessary costs. In particular, some have objected to demands they pay for local governments to expand their recycling programs.

“This is totally unprecedented to our knowledge,” said Paul Cosgrove, a lobbyist for the American Forest and Paper Association, one of the many industry groups that opposed SB 582. “If a small government decides that ” he wants to convert to a curbside recycling program, [producer responsibility organization] have to pay them … for trucks and garbage cans and a charging facility.

Opponents also argue that the bill will have an impact on consumers, who they believe will bear the brunt of the additional costs in the form of higher prices.

“This law poses a lot of problems and settles a lot of things, but it creates several [issues]State Senator Lynn Findley, R-Vale said. “I don’t believe the expectation that manufacturers will eat up these costs for the increased packaging is real. I think they will pass it on to the consumers.

SB 582 does more than force producers to contribute to the recycling system. Among other things, he:

  • directs the state’s Environmental Quality Commission to create an official list of materials that can be collected through a “blended” recycling program, where different products are collected in the same bin. The commission also determines which materials should be collected alone by a group of producers.
  • sets state targets for 25% of covered plastic products to be recycled by 2028; 50% be recycled by 2040; and 70% be recycled by 2050. If these targets are not met, producer responsibility organizations must make changes to achieve them, and the state could issue sanctions.
  • creates a 15-member “Truth in Labeling” task force to “investigate and assess misleading or confusing claims regarding the recyclability of products made on a product or product packaging.” Earlier recycling reform proposals would have required producers to remove “hunting arrows” that signal that a product can be recycled if that packaging could not be recycled in Oregon, but the provision has been weakened.
  • obliges local governments and the DEQ to take action to improve access to recycling programs in apartment buildings and condominiums

SB 582 does not include all packaging, excluding agricultural products, prescription drugs, paint containers and more. There are also exemptions for small producers with incomes of less than $ 5 million per year.

State Senator Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, said last week that these exemptions show Democrats are ready to work with producers. But he said the recycling bill had to pass, comparing it to the pioneering “bottle bill” that Oregon passed in 1971 to reduce waste and another state program that recycles old electronic devices.

“It all went into effect,” Beyer said. “All of these are widely supported by our voters. All of these elements are widely supported by our constituents. It all made a difference. I don’t think anyone would argue that the bottle bill has greatly cleaned up Oregon. “

Beyer noted that he recently saw an ad opposing SB 582 in his local newspaper, and said he was not surprised that it was paid for by national trade groups.

“During the development of this bill, I spoke to many of these people in Washington DC and other places in the east and they made it very clear to me that their concern was that if the Oregon was establishing this program like we did with the Bottle Bill, it will become a national program, “Beyer said.” This is a good step forward. This is the right step for Oregon. .

But unlike the bottle bill, it’s a step Oregon likely won’t take on its own. While similar proposals in a handful of other states were largely scrapped this year, lawmakers in Maine passed a bill last week.


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