Scary Stuff at Oregon’s Recycling Processing Center


SALEM — In the spirit of Halloween, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality asked Oregon recycling processors to take a few minutes out of their busy schedules to snap photos of items that don’t belong at their facilities. We saw a lot of scary stuff.

Mummies are pretty cool, but what’s not cool is mummifying recycling facilities with wire, cords and other things that “tangle” around equipment. Hoses, wires, chains and electric cords can wrap themselves around other materials and machinery, which can cause extensive damage (plus injure the people who have to fix the equipment).

When containers with food or liquid residue are placed in a recycling bin, they can ruin an entire truckload of otherwise good paper and cardboard that could have been recycled.

Why is this stuff so bad?

When people put items that don’t belong in recycling bins, it can cause problems all along the recycling journey. Food, liquids, oil or hazardous chemicals can contaminate paper and other materials in recycling bins making whole batches of materials unusable. Once recyclables arrive at a processing facility, trained sorters hand-pick contaminants out of piles of recyclables, but a lot of them slip through, such as clamshells, plastic bags, food soiled items and other unwanted items. Materials like plastic bags, plastic film and garden hoses can also jam and damage the mechanical equipment that separates different types of recyclables and packages them in bales. Contaminants also create health and safety hazards for people working in these facilities.

“Once the material is processed and packaged into bales of recyclable commodities, they are shipped to specialized recycling facilities who use them to make new products,” says Peter Spendelow, DEQ’s waste reduction analyst. “Contamination in bales diminishes their value and marketability, and if there is too much contamination, companies won’t use these materials as feedstocks for their manufacturing process.”

Know before you throw, Recycle Right!

To protect the environment and reduce waste, it’s important to learn how to recycle right. With so many items to sort, it can be confusing to know what is and isn’t recyclable. If you recycle at home, check the list below to make sure you’re recycling right.

Always keep these five items out of your household recycling bin.

  • Plastic bags and plastic wrap
  • Batteries
  • Clothing, textiles and fabric
  • Styrofoam(TM)
  • Frozen food boxes

Check out Recycle Right! to learn more about what to keep out of your bin.

Trash often ends up in recycling bins, and items like bedding and plastic bags mix up with all the good materials and create big piles of unusable trash at recycling facilities.

Want to know what you can recycle at home?

Check out your city, county or recycling service provider’s website to see what items belong in your curbside collection service. In the greater Portland area (Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties), you can visit or call the Metro Recycling Information hotline at 503-234-3000.

About Author

Julie Miller is a Communications Specialist for the Materials Management program at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Materials Management is an approach to reduce our impact on the environment by using and reusing materials more productively over their entire lifecycles.

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