SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Recycling centers all across the state are scrambling to educate locals on recycling after a recent switch in contaminant standards from America’s main recycling customer: China. 

China, according to Kevin Hines, the general manager at Mid-Valley Garbage and Recycling Association in Salem, recently dropped its acceptable contaminant standard from 15-20 percent, to 0.5 percent. 

“It’s a pretty big swing from what we’ve done in the past,” Hines said. 

Those stricter standards could have a direct effect on people who fail to practice proper recycling. In Marion County, more than 100,000 Mid-Valley Garbage and Recycling Association customers received a postcard, educating them on what they can and can’t recycle. Multnomah County has also started addressing the new recycling standard. 

Oregon recycling centers could fine people for not properly recycling after a recent change in standards from China, America's main reycling customer. (KOIN)

But it’s a habit that’s hard to break.

“Its been a bit of a challenge,” Hines said, adding that they’re working with Marion County and other processors to overcome that challenge. “There’s been contamination in the recycling in the past, so we’re just trying to get that (percentage) down to a level that they’ll accept.”

Milk cartons, plastic tubes and shredded paper, for example, are no longer acceptable. Leftover food containers and plastic bags are also main contaminants that can render a recycling mix unsellable. 

Clay Warner is the recycling manager at Garten Services in Salem. He’s seen everything come through their facility. 

“Hoses and metal wires and chains and rope,” he lists. 

Contaminants will now make the recycling process slower and more expensive for local recycling centers. And that expense could result in fines for customers who consistently fail to follow the rules. Companies will send warnings first, but if those don’t have an effect, a range of fines, beginning at $15, will be levied. 

“What we’re trying to do is get it out of the system on the front end, rather than have it go through our entire system, get to those processors (and) have them sort it out,” Hines said, “and that residual will have to go through the landfill anyways.”