On a Monday afternoon, college student Sabrina Denton visits the newly opened recycling center conveniently located on 9thstreet in Corvallis, Oregon. Despite it being the middle of the day, the parking lot is nearly full. People bustle by, arms full of reusable bags spilling over with bottles, cans, and a rainbow coloring of glass. From start to finish the average customer spends only a few minutes inside, leaving with a small bit of cash for their efforts. Sabrina’s experience is no different. After emerging from her car and balancing the three bags full of cans she brought, a buildup from her house for less than a full week, Sabrina enters the open space and heads straight to the left, obviously having done this before. She carefully places each can into the slot machine, watching as her reward amount goes up. When finished, she puts her remaining bottles into their respective recycling bins and scans her ticket to collect the $3.20 she has made today. “It makes it exciting to recycle now,” she says with a laugh, “My roommates and I actually want people to leave their cans at our house when they come over so that we have more to bring to the center.”
Sabrina is a senior majoring in biology and phycology, but has found a side passion for helping the Corvallis environment in the small ways that she can. A few weeks ago, she brought to her manager’s attention that their coffee shop, The ECafe, was using an unnecessary amount of plastic straws. “It’s surprising how easily you can make a big difference in the community,” she tells me, “all it took was a 5-minute conversation and the campus coffee shop I work at now offers recyclable paper instead of plastic straws.” It’s not just Sabrina who is concerned with our community’s ecosystem; Corvallis is taking a number of recent measures to improve the small town we call home in light of new recycling regulations.
BottleDrop is a recycling center found all around Oregon. A location was opened on 9thstreet in Corvallis at the end of July and has already gained popularity. Residents can turn in their bottles and cans for money, and even register online beforehand to get special rewards. Joel Schnoening, community relations manager for the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, has seen many ways that their BottleDrop locations have impacted the community. “While we need more data to see the effects of the Corvallis BottleDrop,” he stated, “we know that SOLVE, a statewide nonprofit focused on cleaning up trash, has reported that redeemable containers have not been found during their litter pickup events since BottleDrop locations have begun opening.” Schnoening has also seen a general increase in recycling, with established BottleDrop locations gaining more popularity. The impact on Corvallis is clear, as the BottleDrop is always full of customers. Their green bag program offers the opportunity for residents to sign up online and take a green bag home with them. They can then fill this bag with bottles and cans, drop it off at any BottleDrop location, and have it sorted for them with the money automatically deposited into their online account. While the BottleDrop is the biggest recycling center currently in Corvallis, residents can also visit the First Alternative Co-Op for their recycling needs or sign up for trash and recycling service through the Corvallis Republic Services. For students, recycling bins are set up around campus to make everyday waste management easy.
It’s not a coincidence that a new BottleDrop location has popped up around town. Global recycling rules have spurred changes around Corvallis, impacting families and students alike. In 2016, China stopped buying a large portion of the world’s discarded plastics. They claimed that they would no longer accept mixed waste plastic and mixed waste paper, meaning that communities needed to get smarter about recycling. China used to import 45 percent of the world’s plastics, making the declaration one that threw the world’s recycling industry into turmoil. At the beginning of 2018, China’s recycling restrictions began making an impact on U.S. towns such as Corvallis. China’s imports of plastic waste have now dropped by over 50 percent, making it vital that new recycling rules are spread to the public. The overall result of the new Chinese regulations is that recycling is now much more strict across the US. Recycling companies as a whole are now facing problems as well of receiving recycling that is not properly sorted or can not be exported. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, Richard Coupland, vice president of Republic Service, stated that “The key is we’ve got to get the word out. Everybody’s got a role, everybody has to get involved. If we can all get better at what we throw away, that will help us tremendously on the back end.”
If consumers don’t know the new requirements, a whole batch of recycling can end up being thrown away or not being accepted by a recycling center. The new recycling ban put in place by China has impacted Corvallis not only on the state level, but on the university level as well. As far as Oregon goes, the Republic Services is the best resource to find out what is now recyclable and what is not. Their general rules are that anything you recycle be empty, clean, and dry. This means that no food-contaminated items can be recycled, like pizza boxes. Acceptable items include paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum, metal, and glass. Detailed specifics of what to and what not to recycle are detailed further on their website.
The Oregon State University campus has been affected by the new recycling regulations as well. In May 2018, they updated their “acceptables” list. Campus signage was updates across campus and a large scale communications plan was rolled out this year to begin educating the campus. This affects students, staff, and the many small restaurants located at OSU. Andrea Norris is the marketing and development coordinator for the materials management center of the campus recycling and surplus property. In her job, she manages communications between her department and the public, working to spread the word about recycling on campus. This can be especially hard to do when her target audience is a group of busy college students. In her role, she says that it is clear that the on and off campus community have much to learn about what is accepted in recycling bins and that more education is continually needed. She suggests “Printing off a guide with the new recycling rules and hanging it near recycling bins at your house.” Advocacy is a big part of Noriss’ job, and she finds that one of the best things for students to do is invest a bit of time to educate themselves on what is recyclable, then educate those around them. One voice can affect many, especially when it comes to the tight knit community of Corvallis. “Another fantastic opportunity is to volunteer with the Waste Watchers club,” Norris states, “Our annual campaign is called Recycle Right, and is focused on educating campus about how to recycle. Students can join the club by attending our weekly meetings or signing up for shifts at our volunteer opportunities.” This is an opportunity Norris is particularly excited about, and the club will spend next term training new volunteers on giving how-to presentations to other student organizations about recycling.
No matter your age, you can do something to help clean up Corvallis. Kelsie Engstrom, a senior majoring in Public Health at Oregon State, suggests making small changes. “I started leaving a grocery bag by my front door to take every time I go out,” she begins, “and saving my cans and bottles to recycle every week. It’s a little change but I think that once I started doing it, my friends and room mates kind of caught on too.” Kelsie isn’t alone in this feeling. Most feel as though our environment needs too large of a change and that they can’t make an impact, which is why spreading knowledge about Corvallis recycling can give community members feasible ways that they can make a difference. By letting those around you know about the new recycling regulations, you can make a big impact on the US as a whole. Try spending some time researching these new regulations and how you can more effectively sort your trash, or visit the BottleDrop for yourself to see how Corvallis is taking steps towards a positive change.
For the entire article regarding the effect of new Chinese regulations on recycling companies , visit https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-recycling-companies-face-upheaval-from-china-scrap-ban-1533231057
For a detailed list of accepted recyclable items, visit https://recycle.oregonstate.edu/recycling/resources/osu-recycle-guide.