New Recycling Law Introduces Statewide Changes

In this legislative session, Oregon lawmakers passed the Recycling Modernization Act (SB582), creating a significant overhaul of state policy that will modernize Oregon’s recycling system. Governor Brown signed the bill into law on August 6th. In a shift from the traditional recycling doctrine, partial funding for these enhancements will come from packaging, food service ware, and paper product manufacturers.

Across the country, consumers bear most of the recycling burden. Individuals must find an appropriate recycling collector for their items, pay recycling fees to trash services, and fund programs with tax dollars. When this law goes into effect at the beginning of 2022, Oregon will create a new “shared responsibility” recycling system. Consumers are still responsible for much of the recycling process and costs. However, this marks a shift in the government’s thinking on waste reduction. If recycling costs impact producers of single-use items, then there is an incentive to reduce packaging and improve the recyclability of products. Within the law, producers of non-recyclable products will pay higher fees to the program, incentivizing a shift to use recyclable materials.

Beyond adjusting the financial model for recycling, this law focuses on program expansion and logistical enhancements. The bill includes funding to improve recycling sorting facilities and consumer education programs throughout the state. In rural Oregon, the bill provides subsidies to get material to sorting facilities. Additionally, it increases access to recycling for people living in apartments and other underserved housing.

Expanding recycling collection will not necessarily reduce waste if items have nowhere to go after being sorted. Provisions in the law ensure collected plastics are actually recycled, not just transported and disposed of in a landfill. Not only will these changes increase the effective operation of Oregon’s recycling program, but they may also restore consumers’ faith that their recycling efforts are worthwhile.

Staff from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will spend the next few years developing the specific rules needed to implement this law. The DEQ created a form for stakeholders to register their desire to participate in the rules advisory committees or other advisory groups. Expect to see many small developments around Oregon’s recycling program as planners engage with the public and manufacturers. These changes affect a greater number of businesses than any other Oregon recycling law, and its thoughtful implementation will detriment if Oregonians see the desired effects on the environment.

Image courtesy of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

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