Recycling High, But Only Just the Beginning
(The Oregonian, February 12, 1991)
By Richard Carson and Delyn Kies
Do you know what happens to glass, paper, aluminum and other materials you recycle? Recycled materials do not just magically get turned into a new product.
In economic terms, recycled materials are commodities. Whether these commodities have any value depends on the available supply of the material, the demand by consumers for products made from recycled materials and the realization by industry that it is profitable to reuse such materials.
The fact is that the demand for recycled materials has not kept pace with the growing supply. Without an increase in product demand, the gap between the supply of recycled materials and the actual amount re-used will increase. It would be a sad commentary if we persuaded more and more people to be environmentally sensitive and then ended up landfilling the result.
A basic change in both consumer behavior and industrial manufacturing practices is required. The throwaway society must start the transition toward being environmentally responsible.
The first steps toward taking a much more pragmatic approach to making recycling a viable long-term option for Oregon and the Portland metropolitan area have already been taken. This fall, the Association of Oregon Recyclers and Metro pulled together a statewide consortium of government, industry and non-profit groups to help the state and the metropolitan area develop stable markets for recycled materials.
With the help of facilitators provided by Pacific Power, this group developed the "Oregon Recycling Market Strategic Plan."
The strategic plan lists four basic goals that will help us all make this transition:
- Create an Oregon Recycled Materials Market Commission to oversee the long-term work of increasing supply and demand of recycled materials. Such commissions already exist in the states of Washington and California.
- Involve industry in utilizing more recycled materials in the manufacturing process and reduce the use of non-recyclable materials.
- Encourage the expansion of existing businesses and recruit new industries into the region that use recycled materials.
- Create a consumer preference for purchasing products made from recycled materials.
This is an opportunity for the Portland metropolitan area in three respects.
First, the region has one of the best recycling programs in the country. We have already begun the process to institutionalize recycling as a part of our lives. The Environmental Protection Agency's national recycling goal is 25 percent by the year 1992, but the Portland metropolitan area is already at 28 percent and Metro's Regional Solid Waste Management Plan calls for 50 percent by the year 2000.
Second, the region has a major locational advantage in terms of shipping recyclable materials to Pacific Rim countries because it has a major West Coast port.
Third, Oregon is recognized for being environmentally progressive and we can support the start-up, expansion and recruitment of industries that share this ethic.
The strategic plan is built upon the principle that there is a role for everyone. However, just creating a commission will not make it happen. The Oregon Economic Development Department and Metro are charged in the plan with identifying those companies that process or use recycled materials. In other words, recycling is proposed as a major component of the state's and region's economic development effort and international trade agenda.
Recycling at home is a responsible contribution each of us can make to protecting the environment and reducing the costs of solid-waste disposal. However it isn't enough. It is also important that we work toward the integration of recyclable materials in industry and create a preference for products made from these materials. Educating the public, government and businesses to "buy recycled" will have to be a major component of such an effort.
Richard Carson is the director of planning and development for Metro and Delyn Kies heads the Association of Oregon Recyclers.