Waste not: Oregon recycling over half its trash

Per-capita disposal rates lowest in 20 years

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon recovered more than half of the municipal waste Oregonians generated in 2011 – the highest rate since the state started measuring waste recovery rates in 1992.

At the same time, per-capita waste disposal in Oregon dropped to the lowest amount ever since 1992.

These two findings are from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's 20th annual Material Recovery and Waste Generation Rates Report, which breaks down the handling of materials – either for disposal or for recovery through recycling, composting and burning for energy.

View this year's report on DEQ's website.

The report lists material recovery rates by 33 county wastesheds in addition to two municipal wastesheds (Portland metropolitan area and Milton-Freewater).

Key findings and trends for the year 2011:

  • The state's overall material recovery rate was 52.3 percent, highest since the first survey in 1992 and up from 2010's 50 percent rate.


  • Per-capita waste disposal (1,264 pounds) was the lowest since 1992. Total disposal was 2.44 million tons.


  • Per-capita waste generation (the sum of all discards that are either disposed or recovered) totaled 2,458 pounds per person, down substantially from the peak of 3,105 pounds per person in 2006 but up slightly (0.6 percent) from the 2,443 pounds per person in 2010.


  • Per-capita waste generation, which declined sharply in the late 2000s, has remained relatively flat in recent years.


  • Energy savings from recycling and energy recovery amounted to the equivalent of 253 million gallons of gasoline, or roughly 3.2 percent of total energy used by all sectors of Oregon's economy in 2011.


  • Greenhouse gas reductions in 2011 amounted to about 2.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents – equal to the tailpipe emissions from 580,000 "average" passenger cars, or about 4 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions statewide in 2011.


  • Keep recycling! Greenhouse gas reductions for material recovery – particularly recycling – are significant. Recycling cardboard produced nearly a third of these reductions, followed by scrap metal and other paper.


  • Waste prevention – reducing the amount of waste generated in the first place – remains a key goal. The benefits of waste prevention far outweigh the benefits of waste recovery. Numerous organizations and governments continue to encourage people to reuse items and live more sustainably.


            A geographical perspective:

  • Nearly 70 percent of the state's 35 wastesheds increased material recovery rates from 2010 to 2011.


  • Lane County had the highest recovery rate (61.5 percent) in 2011, followed by Marion County with 60.8 percent and the Portland area with 59.3 percent.


  • Rural Oregon counties had the lowest recovery rates, in the range of 10 to 30 percent, but eight of those counties showed progress over 2010. Curry County, for example, increased its rate 6.8 percent over 2010.


DEQ is a regulatory agency whose job is to protect Oregon's environment. Metro is the elected regional government that serves more than 1.5 million residents in the three counties and 25 cities in the Portland, Oregon region.

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