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Oregon Recycling Laws:
A History
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Oregon Recycling Laws

A History


A perceived shortage of landfill space, in part, led to passage of Oregon’s first Opportunity to Recycle Act in 1983. This act also established solid waste management policies that recognized the environmental benefits of waste prevention, reuse and recycling. It stated that in order to conserve energy and natural resources, solid waste management should follow a hierarchy:

  • Reduce the amount of waste generated
  • Reuse materials for their original intended use
  • Recycle what can’t be reused
  • Compost what can’t be reused or recycled
  • Recover energy from what cannot be reused, recycled or composted
  • Dispose of residual materials safely.

The act also required wastesheds (usually counties, except for the city of Milton-Freewater and Metro) to have recycling depots. It required cities with populations over 4,000 to provide monthly curbside recycling collection service to all garbage service customers.

How the laws evolved

The 1983 Opportunity to Recycle Act led to many new curbside residential recycling programs and the establishment of recycling depots. However, Oregon policy makers recognized that there were still opportunities to increase recovery of recyclable materials going to landfills. The 1991 Oregon Recycling Act (Senate Bill 66) strengthened and broadened recycling requirements and, for the first time, added activities to develop markets for recycled materials. The 1991 act:

  • Set a statewide recovery goal of 50 percent by 2000 and interim recovery goals for individual wastesheds by 1995
  • Expanded opportunity-to- recycle requirements to incorporate optional program elements
  • Established a state household hazardous waste program
  • Required recycled content in glass containers, directories and newsprint and set requirements for recycling rigid plastic containers to promote market development
  • Established government procurement requirements for recycled products
  • Required DEQ to calculate material recovery rates annually to measure progress toward the 50 percent goal
  • Required DEQ to conduct a waste composition study every other year to determine what materials are being disposed of, and inform local government recycling program planning
  • Required DEQ to develop a solid waste management plan
  • Required and provided funding to develop a school curriculum on recycling and waste reduction;
  • Funded programs through tipping fees at landfills, including grants to local governments.

Expanding resource recovery

In 1997 a coalition of recycling and solid waste management experts developed a strategy to move Oregon’s resource recovery efforts beyond recycling. One outcome of this effort was a program offering local governments a two percent recovery rate credit for establishing and maintaining programs in waste prevention, reuse and backyard composting. DEQ established guidelines and evaluation criteria for wastesheds that allowed them to earn up to six percent total credits toward their recovery goals for qualifying programs.

Recovery rate challenges

Solid waste generation (the total amount of materials counted as “waste,” whether recycled, composted or disposed) grew each year through the 1990s, while the amount of materials recovered also grew steadily. However, by the year 2000, Oregon had not met its ambitious recovery goal of 50 percent.

In response, House Bill 3744 (2001) set a statewide recovery goal of 45 percent for 2005 and 50 percent for 2009. In order to help meet the statewide recovery goals, all the wastesheds set new voluntary recovery goals for 2005 and 2009 and submitted plans to DEQ for how they planned to meet their new goals. These wasteshed plans were to be updated by Dec. 31, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2010. In the Portland area, Metro’s waste reduction plan met this requirement. If a wasteshed did not achieve its 2005 or 2009 waste recovery goal, HB 3744 required the wasteshed to conduct a technical review of existing policies or programs and determine revisions to be implemented to meet the recovery goal.

HB 3744 also set two statewide waste generation goals and added waste prevention goal language to Oregon law (Oregon Revised Statute 459.015). The waste prevention goals are:

  • By 2005, there would be no annual increase in per capita municipal solid waste generation;
  • By 2009, there would be no annual increase in total municipal solid waste generation.

HB 3744 also added three new ways a wasteshed could qualify for a two percent credit toward its recovery rate for waste prevention programs. It allowed wastesheds to apply for more than two percent credit for residential composting programs if they can document that more than two percent of the waste generated is being diverted by the programs.

Finally, HB 3744 gave wastesheds that burn mixed solid waste for energy recovery some additional credit toward their recovery rates under certain conditions.

Current recycling requirements for local governments

To encourage recycling participation and increase the amount of material recovered from the waste stream, the 1991 Oregon Legislature enacted a menu of recycling program elements or options in Senate Bill 66 (numbers 1 through 8). The 1997 Oregon Legislature made changes to some of these program options and added one more (number 9). Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR 340-090-0040) clarify requirements for each of the following program elements:

  1. Weekly, residential curbside collection of source-separated recyclable materials, on the same day as garbage service. (If this program element is not implemented, a minimum of monthly curbside collection is still required.) Local governments must also give notice to each person of the opportunity to recycle and encourage source separation of recyclable materials through an education and promotion program.
  2. An expanded recycling education and promotion program which includes, among other things, recycling collection promotion directed at residential and commercial solid waste service customers and generators at least four times a year.
  3. Provision of at least one durable recycling container directly to each residential collection service customer.
  4. Recycling collection service provided to multi-family dwelling complexes having five or more units.
  5. Residential yard debris collection program for collection and composting of residential yard debris.
  6. Regular, on-site collection of source-separated principal recyclable materials from commercial generators.
  7. Establishment of an expanded system of recycling depots which are conveniently located to the population served.
  8. Garbage collection rates established as a waste reduction incentive, including a mini-can option.
  9. A collection and composting program for commercial and institutional food waste, non-recyclable paper and other compostable waste.

All cities with population 4,000 or more must provide a minimum of three recycling program elements and basic recycling education and promotion. All cities with population 10,000 or more must provide an additional one or two recycling program elements (depending on the activities chosen). DEQ can also approve alternative recycling programs that comply with administrative rules adopted by the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission.

In 2010, Oregon met its 50 percent statewide recovery goal.

For more information, contact the DEQ Solid Waste Program, Portland, at 503-229-5696 or the solid waste technical assistance staff in your nearest DEQ regional office. Detailed information about individual wasteshed recovery rates and recovery rate goals is available:

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Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Headquarters: 811 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97204-1390
Phone: 503-229-5696 or toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011
Oregon Telecommunications Relay Service: 1-800-735-2900  FAX: 503-229-6124

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is a regulatory agency authorized to protect Oregon's environment by
the State of Oregon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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