Oregon Plastics Recycling Up in Smoke , New Study Says

Environment Oregon released a study on November 14 detailing the inadequacies in Oregon’s recycling system, most notably plastics.  

“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,” Environment Oregon Director Celeste Meiffren-Swango said in a statement. “Now we are left to deal with it ourselves, and plastic is choking our recycling system.”   

Once a major export for the US, East Asian countries began restricting their intake of low-quality recycled plastics in 2018.   

In response, “many municipalities have begun incinerating their recycling streams instead, a process often termed “waste-to-energy,” the study says. “While touted by supporters as a “renewable” energy source, incineration is extremely harmful to both the environment and local communities. For every metric ton of plastic burned in an incinerator, 1,980 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent are released—nearly 15 times more than a ton of plastic waste that is landfilled.”  

According to the report, Oregon’s waste diversion rate has decreased by 4.8 percent since 2014. Meanwhile, the rate of waste generated has gone up by 5 percent since 2016, coming to 7.3 pounds per person every 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. “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.”  

By Brandon Urey