Many Questions Remain as State’s Curbside Recycling Deadline Looms

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In December 2022, the Hermiston City Council held a work session to hear about the Recycling Modernization Act which requires all cities in Oregon with a population of 4,000 or more to implement curbside recycling by July 2025.

At the time, there were a lot of unknowns – particularly in terms of the cost to cities, producers and consumers.

Seventeen months later, not much has changed. The council held another work session on Tuesday to hear an update on how implementation is going.

“We’ve been working on this for about a year, but we’re still a ways away,” said Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan. “There’s still a lot of things to work our way through before we get to picking up people’s recycling from their house.”

The Recycling Modernization Act was passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2021 with the goal of increasing recycling across the state and reduce harm to the environment and public.

A unique feature to the bill requires producers of packaging and paper products to share in the cost of responsible recycling. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said producers of covered products, which include packaging, printed paper and food service ware, will make payments to a producer recycling organization (PRO).

Morgan said that any producer of recyclable materials which make their way in to Oregon would join one of these PROs, which would then collect revenue from those materials producers, remit that to the state, and those funds would then be used to help pay for the cost of collecting, sorting, shipping, and recycling the materials locally. The consumer will still have to pay to have it hauled away, but now the producer will share in some of that cost of recycling that material.

Morgan said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has been conducting a needs assessment of each city to determine what each community will need to implement curbside recycling. Hermiston, for example, will need to purchase two new trucks and 6,000 new recycling carts for Hermiston customers. In December 2022, Morgan estimated it would cost the city about $2 million for those investments.

Morgan said it is unlikely any grant money will be available before implementing curbside recycling.

“It’s still probably six to 12 months out before we know how much revenue we’ll be getting from the PRO,” Morgan said. “Additionally, we won’t know until after the PRO has done all of its work in accumulating all the needs assessments from all around the state before they tell us what capital and operational costs they will help to pay for and how much that’s going to be.”

Another unknown is whether a regional re-load facility will need to be constructed and how much financial assistance will be available for that facility. A re-load facility is used to consolidate and haul away recyclables. Then there is the lag time between when a city orders new recycling trucks and when they actually receive them – which could be up to a year, said Morgan.

He said the what type of trucks the city purchases depends on whether the materials must be hauled to a long-distance facility or to a local re-load facility.

Another issue is the lag time between the time a new truck is ordered and the time it is delivered. Morgan said that could take up to a year.

“We don’t know how much revenue is going to be coming in from the PRO,” Morgan told the council. “We don’t know what our costs are going to be because we don’t know if the PRO is going to help cover the cost of a re-load facility. If they’re not, that sends it down a whole other rabbit hole of how we would actually implement this. Without knowing those, we can’t really get into even trying to come up with a cost.”

Hermiston City Councilor and Mayor-Elect Doug Primmer said that information is also critical to Hermiston residents.

“We know this is going to cost our citizens,” Primmer said. “Giving them some sort of lead time of knowing how much this is possibly going to impact them is going to be very beneficial to our citizens.”

Councilor David McCarthy said it appears that Hermiston will not be ready for implementation by the July 2025 deadline.

“Yeah, exactly,” Morgan said. “DEQ is being lenient with us on that implementation date because they recognize those challenges that we have. My hope is that even if we’re not going to know what this actual cost is going to look like for six to eight months, it’s not going to be something where we find out what it is and we implement it two months later.

“My hope is that if we don’t know those numbers until February or March next year, we’re not going to actually start rolling this out until potentially the following year. My hope is we’re going to have significantly more time after July 1 to implement this.”

Morgan said recycling education will be key going forward because a lot of people have questions.

“So, there’s going to have to be a lot of upfront investment in outreach and education because one of the routine terms that always gets used in the recycling area is that contamination turns recycling into trash. So, if somebody puts something that’s not recyclable into the recycling bin, you’ve automatically made that trash because you have to dump it and it screws up the entire system.”

Morgan said there is only one certainty at this time.

“Of all the variables, about the only one we know is that we’re going to have to do this,” Morgan said.

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