Modernizing Oregon Recycling

by Alissa Oliverson (SWAC Chair), February 2021

Trash Talk Series from Sustainable Klamath, Solid Waste Action Committee (SWAC)

Oregon is not the only state with an outdated recycling system, but we are one of a few states  that are actively seeking to change this reality. Senate Bill 582-1 proposes legislation that will  overhaul Oregon’s recycling system to make recycling easier and more accessible, in part by  requiring producers to take responsibility for their products and packaging.

It is no secret that recycling is a messy endeavor at best, and a broken system at worst. In the  U.S. every state, county, and city has its own rules for recycling and too often our recyclables  end up in the trash or even wind up as pollution around the world. There is much to be done  about the problems presented by our current recycling system, and Oregon is taking its place  once again as a national leader in solving them.

Senate Bill 582-1 will address four major issues within Oregon’s recycling system:

1. It will create a statewide list of recyclable materials. This standardization within Oregon’s recycling industry will eliminate the confusion many of us feel when we sort our recyclables at  home and work. When every county and city follows the same rules, Oregon’s recycling will be streamlined, much easier to understand, and far more profitable.

2. It will put a focus on responsible recycling. You might remember from a previous Trash Talk article that the chasing arrows – those three arrows set in a triangular pattern on the bottom of almost every product/package – DO NOT mean that the item is actually recyclable. Oregon seeks to outlaw this symbol, unless the item is truly recyclable in our new streamlined system. Truthful labeling leads to responsible recycling because it eliminates consumer manipulation and confusion.

3. It will require producers to invest in Oregon’s recycling system. Extended Producer  Responsibility (EPR) is a key factor in the future of recycling because it is about teamwork. Up until now, producers have been allowed to make their products/packaging without giving any consideration to what happens to them after they have been used – or who pays for their disposal. This one-sided system has put all the physical and financial responsibility for recycling on the consumer and local entities, while the producers have gotten off scot-free and made huge profits. Oregon seeks to balance the scales and require that producers who sell things in our state pay their fair share and help to build and participate in a system that facilitates the concept of sustainability.

4. It will advance equity in recycling. Adequate access to recycling services is crucial if we are to tie up the loose ends in our system. Rural areas and multifamily housing (like apartment buildings) have been underserved thus far. By including these places in an updated system, we can reduce activities like burning and illegal dumping, which have devastating impacts on our air quality, human and environmental health.

Oregon’s recycling system was created over 30 years ago, when technology, economics, and  products were different. It is time for an update that optimizes environmental benefits, is more resilient to change, and restores public trust through transparency and follow through. You can learn more about SB 582-1 on the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) website at: http://go.usa.gov/x7nZG and you can get more information about sustainability in the Klamath Basin at: SustainableKlamath.org.