New study: Oregon is facing serious recycling challenges

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Report addresses recycling programs’ problems and potential solutions statewide

Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center

PORTLAND, Ore. — 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 report reflects on how reliance on East Asian export markets, which are no longer reliably taking American waste, have impacted some statewide programs. It also shows that this is only part of the problem.

“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,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director for Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. “Now we are left to deal with it ourselves, and plastic is choking our recycling system.”

The report outlines how Oregon’s combined recycling and composting rate has been trending downward since 2014 and how the average resident in Oregon now produces more than 7 pounds of trash per day. It also discusses efforts in the state to promote plastics-to-fuel initiatives, which are not a solution to the state’s environmental problems, the study explains.

Along with assessing state data, the report presents wide-ranging reforms necessary to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or is burned every year. Policies include cutting back on the amount of unnecessary plastic waste being created, encouraging the reuse of already existing objects, and making sure that products are recycled at the end of their working life.

“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. “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.”


Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.