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Oregon recycling rate up slightly in 2017, not likely to hit 2020 goal

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What you can’t put in your blue recycle bin in Marion County
Heather Rayhorn

Oregon is unlikely to reach its goal of recycling and recovering 52 percent of the waste generated in the state by 2020. 

Instead, Oregonians only recycled and recovered about 42.8 percent of all waste in the state in 2017. That’s just a slight increase from the state’s 42.2 percent rate in 2016. 

The state’s lackluster performance emerged in a report released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The rate in the annual report reflects the waste that is recovered through recycling and other means, including composting and incinerating to generate energy. 

So will Oregon reach its 2020 goal?

“I don’t think it’s going to be realistic,” said Peter Spendelow, waste reduction specialist with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. 

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Garten Recycling employees separate recyclable and non-recyclable items in Salem on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (Photo: Michaela Román, STATESMAN JOURNAL)

The change in the state’s recycling fortunes came from unanticipated circumstances.

The 2015 closure of a paper mill in Newberg that handled large amounts of wood waste has dragged down the the state’s rate. Other mills have stopped accepting wood waste because of strict federal air quality rules, Spendelow said. 

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As a result, more contractors are taking their construction waste to landfills, at a time when the overall waste generated in Oregon is on the rise amid a booming economy.

Of course, the prospect of missing the 2020 goal doesn’t mean recycling machinery is idling. In 2017, Oregon recovered 2.3 million tons of waste for recycling, energy and composting. 

Overall, Oregonians put 5.4 million tons of waste into garbage and recycling bins. That’s up 2.7 percent from 2016, but still below a pre-recession peak in 2006. 

Other factors impact the state’s rate and reflect changing technology. For example, people use less paper because of increased digital communication via email and social media. 

The volume of electronic equipment that is recycled has dropped by 15 percent. That doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people are recycling their computes and monitors. 

Today’s slick, thin iPads weigh far less than the bulky monitors and laptops of yesteryear. 

“You don’t have those big, heavy monitors and you don’t have those big, heavy TVs,” he said. 

Marion County: There are no current plans to expand incinerator operations

In Marion County, the recycling and recovery rate is 49.1 percent, surpassing the the state average. Marion has the state’s only waste-to-energy facility, which is operated by Covanta and can process 550 tons of solid waste a day. 

At Garten Recycling Center in Salem, a 140-person staff sorts, handles and prepares recyclable materials that come each week from government agencies, haulers and private citizens turning in electronic equipment. 

Getting the recovery rate to improve can happen on a personal level when people reduce the amount of things they use and throw away, said Gaelen McAllister, resource development manager for Garten. 

“The best way to do it is reduce the amount going to the trash,” she said. “People can think about before they buy something. Where is this going to end up? What’s going to happen to this when I’m done with it? Is it really something that’s going to last a long time or is it just going to be thrown away?”

Oregon has missed its target for recycling before when overly optimistic policymakers set unrealistic goals.

In 1991, state lawmakers passed legislation setting a target of 50 percent recovery by 2000. The next year, the Department of Environmental Quality started annual surveys to determine how much the state was recycling. 

 After the state missed the 2000 goal, legislators pushed back the target date to 2009. 

Oregon reached its 50 percent goal in 2010. At the time, the state used a different methodology to calculate the rate than it does now.

Oregon used to calculate the recovery rate with a credit system that factored in efforts like local government programs that promote home composting and material reuse, which cannot be measured directly.

The credit system no longer exists and the state stopped using it in 2015.

While in place, it slightly boosted the state’s overall rate. When using the current calculation method in place — based solely on recorded volume — the state’s 2010 recovery rate was 46.2 percent, not 50 percent. 

Salem area: Recycling changes bring unexpected result

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6687 or follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1

Read or Share this story: https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2018/12/26/oregon-recycling-rate-waste-economy-department-environmental-quality/2376916002/



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