Keith Woodman dumps his mixed paper into the bin at the recycle center in Coupeville. Washington state faces a problem of having too much contaminated material, which is something Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, aims to address in her recent bill. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Keith Woodman dumps his mixed paper into the bin at the recycle center in Coupeville. Washington state faces a problem of having too much contaminated material, which is something Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, aims to address in her recent bill. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

State lawmaker aims to improve recycling process

Many people feel a sense of accomplishment when they opt to recycle instead of throwing everything in the trash. However, recyclables are piling up in the state after policy changes were implemented in China — Washington state’s largest importer of recycled materials.

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, is aiming to improve the stewardship of recyclable materials in the state by sponsoring House Bill 2914, which passed unanimously through the House last week.

“It’s all part of a greater issue, which is us being more aware and responsible for our own consumption,” Smith said.

The bill directs the Department of Ecology to develop a public outreach strategy in an effort to improve recycling practices, reduce contamination rates, promote best practices and improve consumer education. This strategy would be required to be implemented by June 1.

China’s “National Sword” policy reduced the number of materials the country would accept and set tougher standards for contamination. Smith said a lot of her legislation has revolved around responsible consumption, but China’s action made this bill “the logical next step.”

“We need to have a better understanding as a public about what there is and isn’t a market for (in) recyclables,” she said.

Gene Clark, operations supervisor at Island County Solid Waste, said there are many factors that go into what is and isn’t accepted at the island’s recycling parks. For instance, milk cartons are only recyclable when sent to a particular type of mill, and there aren’t any of on the West Coast, he said.

There is a high chance for contamination with co-mingled recycling, especially when people aren’t sure what can and can’t be accepted, he said. Grease-stained pizza boxes, jugs with dried milk inside, cans that aren’t completely empty are all common examples of things that can contaminate an entire bin of materials.

“People need to be mindful about how they recycle and not wish-cycle,” Clark said. He said many people put things in the recycling bin and just “wish” that it can be recycled.

The source-separated nature of the recycling parks on the island reduce much of the contamination, but results aren’t perfect, he said. Even as he explained the separation process during the interview, he found foam mistakenly included with cardboard. It can cause major issues when materials are being processed if items aren’t sorted correctly.

“Unless you can sort it properly, it’s going to end up in the trash somewhere else,” Clark said.

The bill would also require the Department of Commerce to conduct an economic analysis of existing types of recycling business practices, opportunities and barriers to recycling more materials and the effects of both regional and global recycling market changes.

Smith said she hopes to create incentives for more businesses to take recyclables for reuse or manufacturing. The bill requires the analysis to be reported to the Legislature by June 1, 2019.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Economic Development and International Trade committee Thursday.

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