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Statewide waste recovery improved slightly in 2017, according to new report by the Department of Environmental Quality.

COURTESY FAR WEST RECYCLING  - Cardboard recycling in Oregon was up in 2017 over the prior year, aided by a robust economy and greater purchases of goods packaged in cardboard. Oregonians generated more garbage in 2017 than the prior year, but managed to increase the share of waste that was avoided via recycling, composting or burning trash to produce energy.

In 2017, Oregonians recovered 2,327,645 tons of waste, or 42.8 percent of all waste generated, compared to 42.2 percent in 2016, according to the annual Oregon Material Recovery and Waste Generation Report released Wednesday, Dec. 19, by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Peter Spendelow, DEQ's waste reduction specialist, speculates that the increase is partly due to the booming economy, along with the doubling of the state's nickel deposit on returnable beverage containers under the Oregon Bottle Bill.

"The rise in generation was likely the result of a busy economy with abundant construction activity and purchasing of consumer goods, leading to increased generation and recovery of materials such as scrap metal and cardboard," Spendelow said, in a release summarizing his findings. "Plastic and glass containers and aluminum all showed increased recovery in 2017 too, probably due to doubling the refund value of beverage containers to 10 cents in April 2017."

Despite the improvement in preventing waste, DEQ experts do not expect Oregon to meet a state goal of recovering 52 percent of all waste by 2020.

The state disposed of 3,106,688 tons of waste in landfills and incinerators in 2017, a 1.8 percent increase from 2016.

Some of the other findings from the study led by Spendelow:

• Metals recovered for recycling rose nearly 13 percent in 2017, after falling 4 percent the prior year. Some of the increase was due to higher prices for scrap metal.

• Paper recycling grew nearly 6 percent in 2017, mostly due to cardboard, after a nearly 8 percent decrease the previous year.

• Plastics recycling fell more than 2 percent in 2017. That is partly attributable to China, which started refusing to buy mixed plastic scraps collected at U.S. curbsides, citing the presence of impurities in the supply.

• Glass recycling increased more than 10 percent in 2017.

• Recycling of electronics or "E waste" fell 15 percent, part of a continuing trend. Analysts say that may reflect that gadgets are getting smaller. And some people have finished clearing out old electronics under the robust Oregon E-Cycles program, which is financed by a fee on manufacturers.

• Total recovery of organics (wood waste, yard debris, food waste and animal waste/grease) decreased less than 1 percent in 2017, compared to a nearly 10 percent decrease in 2016. Closure of large paper mills that used to burn waste wood as fuel, such as one in Newberg, has substantially decreased the opportunities to reuse wood.

Energy savings linked to recycling, composting and energy recovery in 2017 equaled 31 trillion British thermal units. Associated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions was equivalent to 3.3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents.

"Recycling and composting conserves resources, saves energy, and reduces pollution such as greenhouse gas emissions," Spendelow said.

"Proper management of materials at the end of their life makes a big difference, but it's important to remember that preventing waste from happening in the first place and reusing what we have is the best way to protect the environment."

DEQ's full waste report, the 26th-annual one, is available at oregon.gov/deq/FilterDocs/2017mrwgrates.pdf

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@SteveLaw/Trib

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