Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

China’s plan to restrict the amount of recyclable plastic and paper it imports from the U.S. has domestic recyclers scrambling, but so far the effect in Baker City has been limited to mixed plastic containers.

Baker Sanitary Service stopped accepting those containers in September at its 24-hour recycling center at 12th and Campbell streets.

(The restriction doesn’t affect milk jugs.)

David Henry, president of the company, said Baker Sanitary is still accepting mixed paper.

That includes clean office-type paper, junk mail and cereal boxes (with the plastic liner removed).

Baker Sanitary collects about 4 to 5 tons of mixed paper per month. Most of that is dropped off at the recycling center, but the company also picks up mixed paper from schools and some other buildings around the city, Henry said.

Although residents can continue to toss mixed paper into the metal bin at the recycling center, it’s not certain that the material will end up being recycled.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has given Baker Sanitary permission to dispose of mixed paper in the company’s landfill.

That permission is temporary, however.

A Dec. 22 letter from DEQ states that the agency will review the situation on Feb. 1. The permission to dispose of mixed paper in the landfill expires May 1.

Henry said he hopes to avoid hauling mixed paper to the landfill, but with China, the largest importer of recyclables from the U.S., severely restricting imports, it’s been difficult to find other buyers for the material.

“It creates a lot of uncertainty,” Henry said.

The DEQ letter outlines the situation, which is affecting not only relatively small companies such as Baker Sanitary, but also big cities across the nation and companies that buy recyclables and ship them to China.

“China is the main market for Oregon’s recyclable mixed paper and plastic,” the letter reads. “This has created a condition where the primary market for much of Oregon’s recyclable materials is severely constrained and in jeopardy of disappearing.”

DEQ has allowed more than 10 other waste-collecting companies to dispose of mixed plastic or mixed paper in landfills due to the lack of buyers.

See more in the Jan. 1, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.