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China and Lane County just say no to pots.

Byline: Christian Wihtol The Register-Guard

Correction (published July 2, 2013): International Paper's Glenwood plastics facility earlier this year stopped accepting large mixed-grade plastic objects for recycling. An article on the cover of Sunday's City/Region section incorrectly referred to the facility as EcoSort, which runs separate operations at the Glenwood location.

Lane County residents are developing a pot problem.

No, not that kind of pot.

This story is about black plastic plant pots. Specifically, how consumers can get rid of them in an environmentally responsible way.

After years of accepting black plastic pots for recycling at its Glenwood recycling and garbage center, and selling the pots to a firm that shipped them to China, Lane County is now just saying no.

The vendors who take waste plastics from the county have stopped accepting the pots because China, the main destination for West Coast waste plastic, has become a lot pickier about what it lets in, said Sarah Grimm, the county's recycling coordinator.

Chinese officials have decided that too much of the waste plastic that arrives in huge bales from the United States is an unusable jumble of different grades and types of plastic. So they've put up what's being dubbed a "green fence," doing a more thorough job screening at the ports and rejecting unacceptable loads.

Recycling contractors in the United States are, in turn, becoming more leery about what they'll take from collection points, such as Lane County recycling centers.

"Everybody is getting a lot more careful," Grimm said.

The county's move comes in the wake of EcoSort, a material recovery facility, deciding to stop accepting large mixed-grade plastic objects such as toys, lawn furniture and the like at its Glenwood center. Recycling contractors in the United States have backed off from accepting such objects for the same reason they are no longer interested in black plastic pots: Chinese officials are turning up their noses at the stuff.

The long-term solution is for the United States to do a better job reusing pots, and also to create a domestic industry that collects and sorts waste plastic and converts it into plastic pellets that can be used in manufacturing, said Julie Daniel, executive director of BRING Recycling in Glenwood.

The Chinese clampdown on pots "is just another sign that we can't really be dependent upon one outlet, China, for the amount of plastic waste that's generated in the United States," Daniel said.

"There needs to be a domestic market for recycling" plastics into usable raw material, she said.

Until then, many Lane County consumers will have no choice but to throw black plastic plant containers, especially ones that are small or broken, into the trash, she said.

Who will take the pots?

Some local entities are still accepting used plastic pots.

BRING Recycling accepts clean, unbroken plastic plant pots that are 1 gallon or larger, which BRING is able to sell to customers, Daniel said. But it won't accept pots that are smaller or broken. Smaller pots tend to be flimsy, easily broken and of little interest to consumers, she said.

Some plant nurseries also accept some plant pots. For example, Bloomer's Nursery on Armitage Road in northeast Eugene allows customers to bring back pots 1 gallon or larger from plants they bought there, said manager Pam Smallwood. The nursery sells lots of plants in smaller pots, but it won't take those back, she said.

Bloomer's reuses the larger pots on-site for cultivating new plants, Smallwood said.

However, the plant starts or seedlings in smaller pots come from other growers, and Bloomer's doesn't have a system for returning those pots to the growers, she said.

Customers bring back plenty of pots, sometimes leaving piles of them overnight at the nursery's gates, she said.

"We get surprises in the morning, where there will be a whole stack of them," some a gallon or larger, some less, she said.

ReStore, the Eugene-based branch of Habitat for Humanity, accepts all sizes of plastic pots, but doesn't accept anything that's broken, said ReStore Director Scott Morris. So far, ReStore has been able to find consumers who use them, he said.

The curbside recycling programs in Eugene and Springfield do not accept plastic pots.

Tricky to sort

Grimm said she's working to set up a Lane County plastic-pot clearinghouse, where people, groups or companies that have or want the pots can make their needs known.

Some U.S. recycling companies are still interested in black plastic pots, for conversion into plastic raw material, Grimm said. But they only want large volumes of pots made from certain types of plastic, and it's difficult for collection points to meet those requirements, she said. It's tricky to sort plastic pots by their plastic grade or type, in part because many are not marked, she said; plus, sorting is labor-intensive.


Want to help : Contact Lane County recycling coordinator Sarah Grimm at or at 541-682-4339

Places to take plastic pots: BRING Recycling, 4446 Franklin Blvd., Glenwood, 541-746-3023 or; ReStore, 1210 Oak Patch Road, Eugene, 541-741-1707 or
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Title Annotation:Local News; The main destination for West Coast waste plastics is getting pickier about what it will accept for recycling
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jun 30, 2013
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