RECYCLING: Oregon Survey Trumpets State's Efforts

Although Oregon has yet to reach its lofty 50 percent recycling goal, the state is disposing less waste and recycling more, according to Oregon's 2000 Material Recovery Survey.

Issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Solid Waste Policy and Program Development Section, Portland, Ore., the report is the product of a comprehensive survey used to calculate wasteshed (counties and collections of counties) and statewide recovery rates.

Mandated by Oregon's legislature, the survey, which has occurred for the past nine years, found that each Oregonian generated 2,645 pounds of waste in 2000, down 1.1 percent from 2,677 pounds per person in 1999. The study also discovered that the state's recovery rate rose to 38.9 percent, a 2.1 percent increase from 36.8 percent in 1999. In terms of recovered tonnage, this translates to 1,028 pounds per person per year, a 4.2 percent increase in per capita recovery from the 985 pounds recovered per person in 1999.

According to DEQ Senior Policy Analyst Mary Sue Gilliland, whose department primarily is charged with public waste reduction, education and outreach, while the total amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated (waste disposed plus materials recovered) has increased each year since 1991, the state's decrease in disposal on both a per ton and per capita basis was a significant finding.

This bodes well for DEQ's waste reduction and recovery efforts, Gilliland says. “We have little explanation for that, other than good programs and the beginning signs of a weakening economy.”

As part of the survey, the DEQ collected data from 268 private recycling companies, 197 waste haulers, 12 scrap metal dealers and 42 disposal sites that handle municipal and construction and demolition (C&D) waste. The DEQ also surveyed material processors and end-users to cross-check figures and obtain more accurate results. Oregon law required all surveyed companies to respond.

Additionally, waste haulers reported on commingled collections of materials, which was in response to the growing number of commingled programs in the state. Processors or materials recovery facilities (MRFs) also were asked to complete a commingled survey to accurately identify individual materials recovered.

Approximately 35 materials collected for recycling, composting or energy recovery were included in the survey. Only post-consumer materials with no pre-consumer materials were calculated in the recovery rate.

Major materials surveyed included:

  • Paper — newspaper, magazines and mixed waste paper;

  • Plastic — rigid plastic containers, plastic film and composite plastic;

  • Glass — container glass, refillable bottles and other glass;

  • Metals — tinned cans, aluminum and other scrap metals. (Because of the difficulty in separating post-consumer scrap metal from commercial and industrial scrap metal, scrap metal dealers were exempt from mandatory reporting);

  • Organics — wood waste, yard debris and food/animal waste; and

  • Other — items such as tires, used motor oil, ni-cad and lead-acid batteries, textiles, paints/solvents, etc.

  • According to the report, Oregon's disposition breakdown of total wastes generated in 2000 include: Disposed — 61.1 percent; Recycled — 26.6 percent; Composted — 5.8 percent; and Recovered for energy — 6.5 percent.

    In total, Oregon disposed of approximately 2.78 million tons of waste in 2000, or 4.4 pounds of waste per person per day, based on a statewide population of 3.4 million. In 1999, approximately 2.79 million tons of waste were disposed.

    Overall, the state recovered 1.7 million tons of materials in 2000, an increase of 2.1 percent from 1999. Total materials collected for recovery in 2000 increased approximately 8.6 percent, with organics showing the largest increase and tires decreasing, the report says.

    “Recovery increased significantly, particularly in the yard debris, wood waste and construction and demolition areas,” Gilliland confirms.

    The 2000 statewide recovery rate increased because the total recycled materials collected increased at a greater rate than the total materials disposed of in municipal landfills, and materials disposed of in municipal landfills decreased, the report states.

    Twenty-three of the 35 existing wastesheds reached recovery rates that were equal to or greater than their 1999 rates. Only one wasteshed failed to meet its individual state-required recovery rate.

    The survey findings are particularly useful because they provide the DEQ with a vehicle to show the effectiveness of recovery programs, Gilliland says.

    “With money so tight at the local government level — at all levels actually — it's difficult to justify spending funds for programs such as recycling,” she says. But if the state has recovery requirements, “then you have to be able to show how your program is doing to justify putting more capital, expansion or staff into it.”

    Additionally, the study will help the DEQ identify which materials and programs need more attention, Gilliland adds. “Some programs are found to be very successful, she says. “Maybe we can model other programs off of what worked.”

    Meantime, Oregon has moved its deadline for a 50 percent recycling rate from 2000 to 2009.

    For more information, visit, or call Mary Sue Gilliland at (503) 229-5808.