Local plastic recyclers adapt to China's 'Operation Green Fence'

EUGENE, Ore. - Heightened environmental standards of inbound waste shipments to China known as "Operation Green Fence" are hurting dedicated recyclers in Lane County.

"It's cleaning up the recycling system so manufacturers can get quality stocks to make products," said Lane County waste reduction specialist Sarah Grimm at the transfer station on East 17th Ave. on Friday.

China implemented the program in February, restricting the import of certain grades of used plastics.

This program has prompted U.S. recyclers to stop accepting bulky, mixed plastics like buckets, toys and furniture.

Grimm said theses types of plastics have never been okay for curbside recycling in Lane County, but until recently die hard recyclers could take them to International Paper Recyclers in Eugene.

Now these items will have to taken to the landfill unless individuals can get more creative about reuse, said Grimm.

As for the central transfer station in Lane County, Grimm said the only change so far is that plastic plant pots are no longer accepted.

But Grimm said she foresees future changes including added limitations on bag and film recycling.

All colors of bag and film minus black are currently accepted, but Grimm said they may be forced to only accept clear material in the near future.

"Operation green Fence" has hindered another of Lane County's mega recyclers, as St. Vincent de Paul's non-profit recycling program has hit a wall.

Director Terry McDonald said St. Vinny's recycles three to five tons of mixed plastics and low grade paper products every day.

"Green Fence is changing the way we do business. The problem is, the price point has gone negative. It costs us to dispose of this, to have it turned into pulp, where as previously we were paid for the material."" McDonald said.

The heightened scrutiny of waste shipments has turned the once profitable work into a money pit.

Now mixed plastics like DVDs, VHS tapes, and rigid plastics are now headed for the dump.

McDonald said he won't let the market get him down, adding that "Operation Green Fence" might even teach us a valuable lesson.

"There should be no garbage, there should only be zero waste. And we should be finding a way to use these types of products or else re-manufacture these products into other things," said McDonald.