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Lockout-Tagout: Tackling the Plastic Bag Problem at Oregon's MRF's





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Uploaded on Jan 30, 2011

The coalition to ban single-use plastic bags in Oregon has attracted an unusual hodgepodge of individuals and groups to its ranks, including the Association of Oregon Recyclers and Recycling Advocates. Recyclers, like Portland's Far West Fibers, state that the plastic bag is one of the primary contributors to sorting facility inefficiencies, creating losses in profits, contaminating materials, and endangering the health of employees.

As Jeff Murray describes, material recovery facilities (MRFs), which sort mixed recyclables, struggle with plastic bag and film contamination everyday due to misunderstandings as to what is actually accepted in "commingled" or mixed recycling bins. When Oregon recyclers first adopted the commingled system, they saw improved efficiency in recycling collection and increased citizen participation in programs across Oregon. Despite these positive steps, the new system proved somewhat ambiguous to the public and contaminating items like bags and film became gradually more common in the mix.

The public as a whole is still unfamiliar with the items that are acceptable commingled bins. As a result, plastic bags and film wrapping now demand greater attention from sorters, whose job it is to prevent contamination in the machine. Sorters primarily hand-pull the contaminants from conveyor belts, however if too much plastic gets through the workers must climb into the machine "screens" and remove the contaminants by hand. The process of cleaning the screens is a tedious and somewhat dangerous job, that contributes to increased labor costs for MRF facilities.

I shot the photos for this story at two separate Far West Fibers MRFs, one located in Beaverton, Oregon and the other in Hillsboro. Far West Fibers sorts approximately 45 percent of Oregon's commingled recyclables.

Follow me on Twitter! @BhouckOregon


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