Hermiston is one of just six cities in Oregon with a population of more than 4,000 that currently does not have a curbside recycling program. That is going to change in about 30 months thanks to the state’s Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act.
Passed in 2021, the bill applies to all Oregon cities with a population over 4,000 and aims to increase recycling across the state and reduce harm to the environment and public. It will also ensure producers of packaging and paper products share in the cost of responsible recycling – something that’s never been done before.
Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan told the Hermiston City Council there is nothing Hermiston can do except comply with the law.
“The law passed, it’s been signed, and we’re being told that we have to start implementing these things,” said Morgan last week during a council work session on the topic. Morgan said cities must have curbside recycling implemented by July 2025.
The new program will have large upfront costs for Hermiston. Morgan said the city will probably spend a million dollars on new trucks and another million dollars to purchase about 6,000 recycling carts for Hermiston households.
Some of the money may be recouped through grants paid out by producer recycling organizations or PROs. 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 PRO which will use that money to fund necessary upgrades to cities’ recycling infrastructure.
Morgan said, however, that those grants won’t be available prior to the city purchasing its trucks and carts.
What is completely unique to Oregon’s new law is the shared responsibility aspect – meaning the producers are fully responsible for some defined elements and share in the responsibility of carrying out many others, according to DEQ. Producer costs will be scaled based on what materials they use and how much they sell in Oregon. There are exemptions for small businesses, nonprofits, schools and some others. Morgan said this aspect of the law has never been tried anywhere.
“It will be interesting to implement this,” he said.
Morgan said those extra costs paid by producers to PROs will probably mean consumers will be paying more for a gallon of milk or other packaged products. After all, the producers will have to make up for the new fees they will pay by passing it on to the consumer.
It could also mean fewer options on store shelves. Oregon represents just 1 percent of the nation’s population, compared to California’s 25 percent. Morgan said some companies may decide it makes economic sense to stop selling in Oregon rather than comply with the new state requirements.
There will also likely be an increase in a resident’s monthly garbage bill to pay for the extra cart they will need to put their recycled items in for weekly or twice-weekly pickups.
Exactly what this will end up costing the city and its residents remains to be seen, said Morgan.
“There are a lot of moving parts to this,” he said.
One part still moving is list of what will be considered “recyclable.” Before the 2025 deadline to implement the program, the state will develop an official list of what can and cannot be recycled, hopefully clearing up the confusion that exists in the minds of many.
The state has said a uniform statewide list along with reimbursement of freight costs is expected to expand and better meet the needs of underserved communities around the state, especially in rural Oregon.
Other aspects of the new law include a requirement that all dwellings, including apartments, receive adequate recycling service. The DEQ will also permit or certify and audit processing facilities that sort recyclables, requiring them to meet new performance standards and ensure the materials are actually recycled.
Morgan said Hermiston’s lack of curbside recycling will probably work in the city’s favor in terms of getting grant money.
“It’s my hunch that since we’re one of the few cities that don’t – we may be the largest city in Oregon that doesn’t do curbside recycling – our application will probably score pretty high,” he said. “I just don’t know when that is going to take place.”
Another additional expense the city may incur is hiring extra staff for public outreach. Morgan said a change as significant is this is going to take a lot of public education.
Councilor Maria Durón suggested a good way to educate adults is through their children.
“Educate the kids and they’ll pass it on to the parents,” she said. Morgan agreed.
“When little Susie sees Mom throw out the milk carton and reprimands her for it, that goes a long way,” he said.
“My grandkids have grown up with recycling, so they just naturally do it,” said Councilor Jackie Myers. “They don’t even think about it.”
Councilor Roy Barron said the new law is a step in the right direction but seemed uneasy with so many unknowns.
“I think this is great moving forward, but I just have so many questions about funding,” he said. “How is this going to impact the average citizen? It’s admirable – the monumental change that we’re trying to achieve, but I’m really hoping this works out.”