Change in China's standards, lack of local infrastructure, affects regional markets

Because of changes in international markets, solid waste and recycling collection rates will increase in Gresham.

The common Gresham household will see an increase of about $2.67 per month on its collection bill.

On the commercial side, rates will rise by about 9 percent, so a typical business will see an $18 increase. The changes will go into effect May 1, following a unanimous Gresham City Council vote on Tuesday evening, April 3.

"No one likes to see rates go up, but the investment we need is significant," said Councilor Karylinn Echols.

Changes in China have caused the rate increase. The United States exports large amounts of its recyclables to China, which in turn used them to supply its manufacturing boom.

But after deciding that the process was contributing to pollution, China set strict regulations on what materials it would accept. The ban on materials was enacted on Jan. 1, leaving many U.S. companies scrambling.

Because of the past situation, few waste collection companies in the United States have the infrastructure to properly meet the new expectations. The changes in sorting means higher costs are being passed down to the community. In Gresham, about $140,000 is needed to offset the rate increase.

"This has been an unprecedented increase in the cost of processing recyclables," said Shannon Martin, Gresham's solid waste and recycling program manager.

The rate changes are similar to what many other regional jurisdictions are planning, with most communities putting out an expedited adjustment. Gresham last changed its collection fees in 2015.

More shifts are expected in the future, as a statewide group is looking into long-term solutions for dealing with waste. One potential option is the private sector replicating China's old sorting methods, though it would require significant infrastructure changes in Oregon.

Another option would be to send the materials to a different partner country, though experts are concerned about the lack of environmental considerations in those places.

"If we are able to come up with system improvements, the rates could go back down in the future," Martin said.

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