Starting Dec. 1 Baker County residents will no longer be able to drop off mixed paper at Baker Sanitary Service’s recycling center at 12th and Campbell streets.
The company will remove the mixed paper bin due to stringent standards for recyclables imposed by China, the main importer of materials from the U.S. The issue is affecting recycling operations across Oregon and the nation.
The effects actually started last September, when Baker Sanitary stopped accepting some plastic containers, also because China’s limitations on imports.
Mixed paper covers a wide range of products including office paper, shoe boxes, paper towels and more. Baker Sanitary takes in about 4 tons of mixed paper per month.
The company will send fliers to all customers notifying and explaining the circumstances.
“We regret that we have to do this, it really is out of Baker Sanitary’s hands,” said Brent Freese, the company’s general manager.
Although the mixed paper bin will remain until Dec. 1, Baker Sanitary has actually been hauling that material to its landfill near Baker City for several months under an agreement with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
After Dec. 1, Baker Sanitary asks its customers to put mixed paper with the rest of their garbage.
The issue with China has prompted DEQ, since Sept. 1, 2017, to allow 26 companies to take materials, including mixed paper and plastics that had previously been recycled, to the landfill.
Oregon law allows the agency to do that when the cost to recycle materials exceeds the cost to dispose of them in landfills.
Of the 26 companies, 13, including Baker Sanitary, are still authorized.
Baker Sanitary’s agreement — it’s known as a concurrence — covers only mixed paper and plastics.
But 11 other companies have concurrences that allow them to landfill rather than recycle materials of other types that customers place in curbside bins, what’s known as “commingled residential” recycling.
Baker Sanitary Service does not offer curbside recycling, so its materials are segregated by way of the bins at the recycling center. That allows the company to landfill only mixed paper and plastics, while continuing to recycle other materials such as newspapers, cardboard, aluminum and glass.
The 11 companies that can landfill other recyclable materials include Waste Pro, which operates in La Grande and Island City and disposes of its trash, including some previously recycled items, at the Baker Sanitary Service landfill.
Freese said China’s restrictions on recycling imports has affected the company because the recyclable materials it collects have historically gone to China with two exceptions — cardboard and newspapers — both of which are trucked to Oregon companies.
In 2013 China imposed new regulations on imported recycling limiting contamination to 0.5 percent, but the country didn’t start strictly enforcing the threshold until 2018.
DEQ estimates that contamination of Oregon’s recyclable materials ranges from 8 percent to 13 percent.
The standards that China has set are impossible for Baker Sanitary to achieve, Freese said.
See more in the Nov. 16, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.