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Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard

With a crash, a front-end loader dumps 3 cubic yards of what looks like garbage onto a heavy conveyor belt inside SP Recycling's plant in Clackamas.

But it's not trash. It's a load of mixed recyclables from Eugene, collected by Sanipac the previous day and trucked up Interstate 5.

The hodgepodge of newspapers, milk jugs, cardboard, aluminum cans and other material bobbles along a series of noisy, automated sorters and past workers furiously picking through what the machines miss.

Each day, the plant processes 400 tons of recyclables from around the Northwest, culling paper for its newsprint mill in Newberg and shipping all other sorted material to cardboard makers, can manufacturers, plastic recyclers and other industries, some overseas.

Increasingly, this is how recycl-ables are handled, and Eugene is the latest in a growing list of communities switching to blended or commingled recycling.

The area's two largest trash haulers, Sanipac and Lane Apex Disposal, began accepting commingled recyclables earlier this year. Residential customers of the city's smaller two haulers, Countryside Disposal and Royal Refuse, also are free to put out their recyclables mixed, the owners said, although Royal still sorts the material.

The method allows residents to toss their recyclables - all but glass, that is - unseparated into a single container. For now, that container remains the ubiquitous plastic curbside bin, but most Eugene residents will receive large new roll carts for recyclables starting around mid-October. Commingling is the logical next step for recycling in a state so dedicated to the cause, said Charlotte Becker, resource director for the Association of Oregon Recyclers.

"There's this whole industry in Oregon built around recycling. It's huge," Becker said. "It's not the hippies in Birkenstocks carrying a barrel of glass down to the Owens-Illinois (bottle) plant anymore, which is kind of how it started 30 years ago. Now we're recycling stuff we never thought would be possible."

But the trend of commingled collections isn't embraced by all recycling advocates, in part because of concerns about residual waste, or the amount of recyclables that don't get separated and end up in a landfill.

"In terms of the bigger picture of whether this truly captures the most material for recycling, I still think the jury is out," said Julie Daniel, general manager of BRING Recycling, a nonprofit recycling organization serving Lane County.

"What's our goal? Is it to collect materials as cheaply and safely as possible, or to recover the greatest amount of materials with the least environmental costs?" Daniel said. "They're not necessarily the same goals."

Ever-improving technology

Proponents of commingling argue that ever-improving technology ensures the vast majority of materials do get recycled.

SP Recycling, owned by three newspaper chains, claims a residual waste rate of less than 2 percent at its 16-month-old Clackamas plant. And most of what gets tossed out are things - Styrofoam, plastic bags, propane tanks, metal pipes and the like - that shouldn't have gone in a recycling bin in the first place, said John Lucini, vice president of SP Recycling's Pacific region.

Plant workers mostly have to contend with nonrecyclable plastics, from grocery sacks to toys to bands used in bundling, Lucini said.

"That's the biggest battle," he said. "The best thing we can do is educate the public."

But even what does get thrown away is more than offset by increased participation in recycling, commingling supporters say.

While food containers still must be rinsed out, nothing needs to be smashed or separated, making the recycling chore as easy as taking out the trash. As a result, communities that adopt commingling typically see a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in the volume of recyclables collected, said Alex Cuyler, Eugene's solid waste and recycling analyst.

"I don't anticipate Eugene to be any different," said Cuyler, chairman of the Association of Oregon Recyclers.

The city hopes the convenience attracts people who aren't ardent recyclers and motivates those who do recycle regularly to toss even more into the bins, he said.

"It is significant," Cuyler said. "We are going to capture those people who have seen recycling up this point as too confusing or time-consuming."

Portland increases recycling

Portland introduced commingling four years ago and saw an enthusiastic response, said Bruce Walker, manager of the solid waste and recycling division.

"We saw a 15 percent boost right out of the gate when we went to a streamlined sorting system," Walker said. Residents there are still asked to place paper products in a separate bag.

"The part that we've made simpler for customers has proven to us this really does make sense," he said. "Why have them set out each little item that they may have in a separate bag, or have a union-wage driver standing next to a $125,000 recycling truck sorting out the material into separate compartments? In my opinion, it had lost its customer friendliness."

Ernie Maruska of Eugene is certainly finding commingling an easier way to go. A Sanipac customer and graduate of the county's master recycler program, Maruska is retiring his backyard recycling center, which he fashioned from large sacks and PVC pipe.

But he admits he had a hard time breaking his habit of sorting everything.

"It was difficult the first few weeks," he said. "I felt I was cheating by throwing it all together in the same bag. Now I'm fine with it. I only have to haul one bag around the house when it comes time for recycling, instead of three or four."

BRING's Daniel doesn't deny commingling and roll carts make recycling simpler, but she said that's no excuse for people to get sloppy with their recycling. The carts, she said, make it impossible for haulers to know if people are recycling the right material. That greasy pizza box or unrinsed peanut butter jar or block of foam packaging no longer will be spotted on the curb and left behind, sometimes with a note for why it was rejected, she said.

"It makes it so easy. There's no feedback, nothing there to stop you," she said. "You could put anything in your recycling cart. It's all automated. No one looks."

Sanipac's general manager, John Hire, said education will continue to be the key to good recycling habits, and his company plans to mail customers instructions on how the new procedure works. In addition, the lid of the new roll carts will state what can and can't go in them, he said.

If it's something that can't be recycled, Hire said, it either will be thrown away by the homeowner or thrown out after it's separated down the road. The important thing is to get more people to recycle more material, he said.

"When the yard debris program came along, no one said yard debris has residual waste so we shouldn't do it," Hire said. "This is where recycling has to go."


These materials may be placed in curbside recycling containers in Eugene:

Newspapers, magazines, junk mail

Cardboard, cereal boxes, milk and juice cartons, egg cartons, paper bags, nonfoil wrapping paper

Tin cans, aluminum foil, beverage cans

Plastics with the triangular recycling symbol, Nos. 1-5 and No. 7 (not No. 6)

Glass bottles and jars (keep separate from other recyclables)

Motor oil, transmission or hydraulic fluids (pour into unbreakable, 1-gallon container with tight lid; separate from other recyclables)


Workers at SP Recycling's plant in Clackamas pick through items from a truck load of unsorted recyclable goods from the Eugene-Springfield area. The company uses the paper for its newsprint mill in Newberg. Other material is shipped to various companies and manufacturers. Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard Ernie Maruska, a Sanipac customer, now doesn't need the separate bins that he built to sort his recyclables.
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Title Annotation:Residential customers of Eugene trash haulers find a simpler way to recycle; Environment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 2, 2003
Previous Article:Looking Back.
Next Article:Sanipac to take giant step with new recycling carts.

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