Oregon is moving backwards, both when it comes to its recycling rate and waste reduction efforts, according to a new study from Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. The second annual “State of Recycling in Oregon” highlights structural challenges, the rise of plastic, the effects of failing to recycle, plastic-to-fuel efforts and trends in the state’s recycling data.
The study said in recent years, Oregon has been generating more waste and recycling less of it, with the exception of containers covered by the state’s bottle bill. In 2017, the latest year with available data, Oregon recycled 27.1 percent of its waste and composted 9.5 percent. Additionally, Oregonians generated nearly 5 percent more waste in 2017 than in 2016. Oregon generated 5,534,877 tons of municipal solid waste, or 7.3 pounds per person per day.
“It’s entirely within our power to fix the system, but what is missing is the necessary sense of urgency,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Zero Waste Director Alex Truelove, who co-authored the report, in a press release. “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.”
According to the study, though overall recycling rates have decreased in Oregon in recent years, recycling rates of containers covered by the state’s bottle bill increased significantly in 2017. This is likely because in 2017, the state doubled the deposit that consumers receive for returning these bottles from five cents to 10 cents.
While all plastics present an environmental risk, polystyrene foam, popularly known as Styrofoam, is one of the most harmful, the study said. Its recycling options are even more limited than other common forms of plastic, and the substance often ends up as litter, eventually breaking down and polluting our land and oceans. Last year, a statewide polystyrene ban lost by a single vote in Oregon Senate. The measure was heavily opposed by the company Agilyx, which claimed polystyrene waste could be recycled in their facility.