The State of Recycling in Oregon

Released by: Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center

Since 2014, Oregon’s recycling rate has steadily declined, from 41 percent to 37 percent. Although Oregon’s recycling rate remains above the national average of 34.7 percent, the results are well below the state’s goal of achieving 52 percent by 2020 and 55 percent by 2025. Note that every single major county has failed to improve their reduction of waste since 2012. This downward trend will likely continue without serious investment and programmatic change. Here’s how the ten most populous counties and multi-county areas stack up:

It’s time for Oregon to reverse the current trend and work toward its stated goals. To do so, the state will have to contend with the effects of recent international trade disputes, which Oregon has felt heavily. For decades, the United States sent millions of tons of scrap material to China to be recycled. This past year, China effectively stopped accepting the refuse, claiming it was too contaminated and unsellable for recycling. The United States was unprepared for this change in policy. Without China as an export option, recyclables have been piling up in facilities throughout Oregon and other states. This disruption increased service costs, decreased revenue, and in some cases led recycling collectors to stop their services.

As the saying goes, change brings opportunity. Oregon profits from its recycling industry in the form of 2,300 jobs and $420 million in economic benefits annually In the wake of China’s policy changes, Oregon has an opportunity to further develop its recycling economy through expanded collection, sorting, and end-market solutions.