By editorial board • 

Polystyrene recycling program presents a unique opportunity

Most Americans are blockheads when it comes to recycling.

Some don’t recycle whatsoever. Others pitch trash items into the same bin. Both actions cause a wide range of problems and expenses, and there are no quick fixes. Not normally, anyway.

The McMinnville City Council is scheduled Tuesday to act on an offer from Agilyx Corporation to take McMinnville’s discarded polystyrene, re-process it and sell it to various customers.

Polystyrene — the stuff of styrofoam containers, plastic coffee cups, clamshell food boxes and disposable utensils — is pesky.

Polystyrene No. 6 ranks as the worst. The rigid material is used for many forms of plastics that can’t be recycled — especially if there are bits of food clinging to it.
Americans adding their polystyrene waste in recycling bins is one of the reasons China and other international countires are either refusing U.S. material outright or imposing a stiff penalty.

Rising recycling costs led Recology Western Oregon, McMinnville’s garbage hauler, to seek city approval for an increase in monthly trash collection rates next year.

Councilors were set to approve a 5 percent rate increase when they met Nov. 27, but a Zero Waste contingent presented the Agilyx offer, triggering reappraisal.

Zero Waste urged Recology to establish a drop site for polystyrene and haul it to Agilyx in Tigard. Recology representatives seemed to like the idea, as did councilors — to the point where they asked Recology to crunch the numbers and tabled the proposed rate hike in the interim.

Recology swiftly completed an evaluation. It is now seeking 5.5 percent to offset increased recycling costs, the additional 0.5 percent covering the polystyrene program. Recology is requesting an additional 5 percent to cover increased expenses independent of recycling. Action on that is dependent on a thorough review of the company’s rate structure, to be conducted early next year.

Agilyx gives every appearance of being a white knight in this scenario. The company is willing to take massive amounts of polystyrene off McMinnville’s hands at no cost, and the stuff doesn’t even have to be clean. McMinnville residents aren’t being asked to rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. They are simply asked to clear the table.

Success of the program still relies on people; in this case, their willingness to collect No. 6 recyclables and transport them to a drop site. As with any recycling, that will come with varying participation.

But for half a percentage point, councilors could provide relief for a major problem in local recycling and set an example for other jurisdictions.