Oregonians are recycling less while generating more waste, report says

Oregonians are recycling less while generating more waste, report says

The amount of trash Oregonians produce is going up, the rate of recycling is going down and the number of places willing to take our refuse is dwindling, according to a new report.

All of that amounts to a worrying trend in the wrong direction, said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director for Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center, which released “The State of Recycling In Oregon” report Thursday.

“The reality is plastics are so hard to recycle and so low value that we could only consistently afford to collect and recycle it when China was willing to buy it,” she said in a statement. “Now we are left to deal with it ourselves, and plastic is choking our recycling system.”

In 2017, the last year for which data was available, Oregon residents recycled just over 27 percent their waste and composted a little more than 9 percent. The combined rate of 36.6 percent seems good, more than a third of all waste being diverted from a landfill, but that number represents a 5 percent decrease from the amount diverted in 2014, according to the report.

The lone standout from the dropping statistics is for containers covered by Oregon’s bottle bill, which increased the deposit for those containers from 5 cents to 10 cents in 2017. The report said recycling rates for those specific types of containers “increased significantly.”

While our recycling rates have been decreasing, the amount of refuse we produce has been going up. In 2017, Oregon created more than 5.5 million tons of municipal waste, more than 7 pounds of trash per person per day, according to the report. That marks a 5 percent increase from 2016.

And fewer places are willing to take on the burden of sorting through our recyclables, which are often commingled with materials that can’t be recycled. For years, countries in east Asia were willing to take huge shipments of waste from the United States. Once there is was sorted, and the unusable portion was often incinerated or ended up in a landfill, the report says.

“Starting in early 2018, east Asian governments began banning, limiting or more heavily regulating U.S. recyclable exports,” the report says. “The era of globalized waste trade came to a sudden end and the U.S. was left to deal with its flawed recycling system.”

Since then, municipal governments have tried to make clear exactly what can and cannot be recycled, but, between September 2017 and May 2019, the state has approved 26 requests to dispose of recyclable materials that recycling facilities didn’t have the capacity to handle, according to the report.

The report did come with a number of recommendations to fix the downward slide, however, including expanding curbside recycling efforts, reducing the use of single-use plastics like bags and straws, and banning food waste from landfills to encourage composting.

“It’s entirely within our power to fix the system, but what is missing is the necessary sense of urgency,” said Alex Truelove, a co-author of the report. “Recycling, composting and waste reduction efforts will need to play an important role in the fight against microplastic pollution, climate change and other environmental challenges.”

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Michelle has been a part of the journey ever since Fox Statement started. As a strong learner and passionate writer, she contributes her editing skills for the news agency. She also jots down intellectual pieces from Environment category.

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