It’s all but impossible for a consumer to avoid buying plastic, but until recently it’s been relatively easy for Baker City residents to recycle many of these items.

But the announcement by Chinese companies, the primary buyer of recyclable plastic, that they will stop taking U.S. shipments on Jan. 1 has had a domino effect that has reached Baker Sanitary Service’s recycling center in Baker City.

In common with many other Oregon firms that collect plastics, Baker Sanitary has ceased accepting mixed plastic containers (you can still drop off milk jugs, though).

According to officials from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, this problem doesn’t appear to have a simple solution.

This raises the unpleasant prospect that tons of plastic, instead of being turned into new containers, will instead be buried in landfills. This not only takes up space in those depositories, but it means more petroleum will be used to create virgin plastic rather than the recycled version.

Worse still, the trouble might not be limited to mixed plastics.

According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington, D.C., China has notified the World Trade Organization that it also intends to ban imports of mixed paper. The Institute’s president, Robin Wiener, didn’t mince words in an interview with Recycling Today magazine, saying, “A ban on imports of scrap commodities into China would be catastrophic to the recycling industry.”

About one-third of the recyclables collected in the U.S. are exported, and China is the biggest buyer of the material, according to the Institute.

This challenge is also an opportunity, though. Plastics and paper and other items are recycled rather than buried because they have value. We hope American companies will fill the void China has created. That would create jobs and, potentially, allow local residents to fill recycling bins rather than the landfill.