By editorial board • 

Plastic foam at forefront of recycling trends, bans

While some jurisdictions around the country implement bans on plastic foam (New York City’s ban went into effect Jan. 1). McMinnville started recycling it last week.

It can be considered a second victory at the policy table for local environmental advocacy group Zero Waste, which previously initiated the push for a plastic bag ban at local retailers. The bag ban wasn’t passed without heavy criticism. However, starting a residential plastic foam recycling center for a half-percent increase to residents’ waste hauling fees was processed from idea to implementation in record time for local policy.

Plastic foam and other forms of polystyrene, often used in restaurant to-go orders, can be dropped off at the Recology Zones Materials Recovery Facility on Orchard Avenue in McMinnville — even if it still contains residue left over from your meal. From there, it will be sent to the Agilyx Corporation in Tigard.

With China firm on stricter rules of what types of America’s waste it will accept, the recycling industry continues to be unstable. Waste Management, Houston-based parent company of the Riverbend Landfill, for example, expected its earnings from recycling to shrink by about $100 million in 2018 compared to 2017, according to a Houston Chronicle article.

The uncertainly presented by China’s refusal of most mixed paper and scrap plastic also creates opportunity. Look no further than the end point of McMinnville residents newly recycled plastic foam. Agilyx is at the forefront of a new plastics economy. 

Agilyx takes hard-to-recycle plastics and reverse engineers them into the liquid samples then turned into fuels, feedstocks and new consumer plastics. It’s the world’s first commercial waste polystyrene-to-Styrene oil recycling plant, according to a press release at its April 2018 ribbon-cutting.

Waste Zero representatives celebrated the new polystyrene recycling program while keeping their heads below the clouds. They know a dropoff site for residential recycling will collect only a small percentage of the total polystyrene in the community, much of which ends up in the landfill. But Zero Waste has built its organization from modest victories. That includes collection of waste and education at local events thanks to a small army of environmentally-minded volunteers. 

The group’s president, Ramsey McPhillips, has long fought Riverbend expansion from the reins of the Stop the Dump Coalition. While all parties continue to await a decision from the Oregon Supreme Court, McPhillips and many other Zero Waste leaders have earned widespread community support for their proactive measures — and certainly a seat at the policymaking table. It’s a better look for the group than the more politicized tactics of Stop the Dump, which has managed to weaponize Oregon’s cumbersome land-use laws in its fight against landfill expansion.

It’s worth noting the requirement made by the county in approving Waste Management’s request of inclusion of a future green technology plant on-site.

Given the current state of waste and recycling, both locally and worldwide, companies like Agilyx, if successful, could ignite investment and innovation. Perhaps Riverbend one day is the site of a new petrochemical plant.

Whatever happens, it will begin with small local victories. 

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