New Oregon recycling plan awaits Gov. Brown's OK
Oregon would embark on a major new recycling effort — this one aimed at reducing, reusing or recycling plastic and paper waste that China no longer accepts — under a bill that is headed to Gov. Kate Brown.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 582, the House by 31-24 on Friday, June 25, and the Senate by 16-13 the previous day. Democrats supplied all the votes for it, Republicans almost all the votes against it. Four Democrats in the House and one in the Senate voted no, as did the Senate's lone independent.
Fifty years ago this month, when Oregon lawmakers passed the nation's first requirement for refundable deposits on beer and soda bottles and cans, Republicans figured prominently in that legislation. Gov. Tom McCall, who opposed it two years earlier, championed it. Rep. Paul Hanneman of Cloverdale, was a key sponsor. The idea originated with Richard Chambers, whose daughter — Rep. Vicki Berger of Salem — was a champion of its expansion during her 12 years in the House that ended in 2015.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total of 10 states have "bottle bills."
"Oregon's original stewardship program was the bottle bill," Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, said. "I remember that the bottle bill wasn't exactly loved when it was passed. It is now. Polls show that our constituents support recycling and are not happy with the current status after China closed things down. They do not like the idea of their recycling going into the dump. This bill begins to address those concerns."
Oregon also has programs to recycle paint, electronics, medications, tires, motor oil and mattresses. But plastics recycling has been problematic.
"If we do nothing, it is the ratepayers — you and I — who will keep paying the increasing costs, while producers that contribute more to marine debris and plastic pollution pay nothing," Rep. Janeen Sollman, a Democrat from Hillsboro who was a chief sponsor of the original bill, said. "Without this bill, our recycling system will be under threat and will become less effective over time."
A longer road
As chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee and the bill's floor manager, Beyer acknowledged that the new effort to recycle plastics, paper and other materials will be more complex and take longer than Oregon's original bottle bill, which took effect in September 1972, 15 months after it became law.
The new requirements will start in 2025. Beyer said he expects future legislatures to deal with the issue.
He said the producers of such materials, which often end up in packaging that ends up in landfills, will join consumers, cities and counties that oversee waste disposal and recycling, and waste haulers themselves to come up with solutions. They would form "producer responsibility organizations."
"It is a partnership because we are asking producers to share in the cost of handling their products' packaging waste, promoting reuse and recycling," he said. "We do this by asking producers to be responsible for about a quarter of the current cost of managing their waste while their customers, also known as ratepayers, continue to pay the balance of those costs."
All those interests will be represented on a committee that will advise the Environmental Quality Commission, the policymaking arm of the Department of Environmental Quality, on setting the rules for new reuse and recycling programs. They also will be asked to develop new markets for these materials.
DEQ, in turn, will set statewide standards, instead of the patchwork of lists that vary from county to county, for materials that can and cannot be recycled,. The agency also will develop ways to help rural waste haulers bring some of their materials to recycling centers, which generally are in the Portland metro area.
Beyer said the program draws from others like it in Europe and Canada.
"Experience in those places has shown there is marginal impact on prices. But they do boost recycling," he said.
"The majority of the impact will be on producers outside of Oregon. The requirement exempts most small businesses."
Senate Bill 582 originated as a requirement for DEQ to study what Oregon should do in the aftermath of China banning imports of plastic waste and curtailing shipments of waste paper from the United States in 2018. The shipments often were contaminated with other materials as a result of improper sorting.
Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, then led the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
"As often happens with crises, a crisis occurs and it reveals deep flaws in our system that need to be addressed," he said. "What we realized is how weak our recycling system had become, at the same time that more companies were using plastic product that was difficult or impossible to recycle. If it wasn't going to China, it was going to end up in our landfills.
"This model has been well thought out and creates a framework for the future."
'Do it right the first time'
But Sen. Lynn Findley of Vale, the top Republican on Beyer's committee, said the resulting bill was not good enough for him.
"I have the expectation that when we do legislation, we should do it right the first time," Findley said. "We should not have to come back later and deal with it," Findley said.
Findley said he expects any recycling or reuse programs will be more costly than projected now — and consumers will end up paying more. "I do not believe the expectation that the manufacturers are going to eat those costs for the increased packaging," he said.
He also said that because of federal requirements, food and medicine will still end up in packaging that is difficult or impractical to reuse or recycle.
Sollman, the bill's floor manager in the House, summed up the ultimate goal: "When producers use packaging that produces more waste, they will pay more. When they use less material that can be recycled, they will pay less. They will have an incentive for change."
Findley said a long list of business and trade associations oppose the bill. They include the Association of Magazine Media based in Washington, D.C., and the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, which joined in a recent op-ed column opposing it.
"Almost all of them are national trade associations, which really doesn't surprise me," Beyer replied. "They told me quite clearly their concern was that if Oregon establishes this program, as we did with the bottle bill, it will become a national program."
Still, Beyer said, it has one thing going for it — popular support.
"I think no one disputes that the bottle bill has greatly cleaned up Oregon," he said.
"This is a good step forward. It's the right step for Oregon. It addresses what your constituents are concerned about what is going into the waste stream."
NOTE: Updates with action by Oregon House, comments by bill's floor manager in the House.
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