Recession benefit: Less Oregon garbage

PORTLAND — If there are silver linings to the recession, state Department of Environmental Quality officials say this might be one: Oregon’s per-person waste generation dropped by 9 percent in 2008.

The drop is the largest since the state began tracking the statistic in 1992. Total garbage generation fell 8 percent in 2008, to 5.2 million tons.

On a per-person basis, Environmental Quality said Wednesday that garbage generation dropped from 3,045 pounds in 2007 to 2,761 pounds in 2008 — nearly 300 pounds less per year per resident.

Department officials say the economic downturn that began in summer 2008 drove down construction and the related disposal of heavy construction debris. But the rate of garbage generation was down across all categories as consumers dialed back spending and tossed away fewer things.

The consumer trends are likely to show up again in 2009, said Mary Lou Perry, a DEQ solid waste specialist.

“People are buying less and disposing less,” Perry said. “I think they’re going to continue to be careful. After the Great Depression, people were careful for quite a while.”

The average Oregonian generated roughly 7.6 pounds of waste per day in 2008. Of that daily total, 3.4 pounds was recycled or reused.

Oregon’s overall “recovery rate” — including recycling, composting and waste-to-energy programs — hit 44.5 percent in 2008, rising from the 42.8 percent rate in 2007 after dropping for two years in a row.

The Metro rate, including Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, rose to 56.8 percent in 2008, up from 55.3 percent in 2007.

Marion County, which burned about 20,000 tons of recyclables for energy in 2008, had the highest recovery rate at 58.4 percent.

The economic downturn helped boost recycling as consumers and businesses were less likely to toss out old stuff.

DEQ estimates that recycling in 2008 saved the energy equivalent of 243 million gallons of gasoline, or 2.7 percent of the total energy used in the state.

“For the little guy who’s concerned about what they can do for climate change: They can recycle,” Perry said.

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