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Oregon's Recycling Laws

Recycling is one type of materials management. Under Oregon law, all cities with at least 4,000 people must provide recycling services. Oregon's recycling laws require local governments to implement recycling programs and, in some jurisdictions, waste prevention and reuse programs.


Oregon's base recycling law is the Opportunity to Recycle Act (Oregon Revised Statute 459A), which the Oregon Legislature most recently amended in 2015. DEQ elaborates on the Opportunity to Recycle Act in the agency's Recycling and Waste Reduction administrative rules. DEQ also regulates local governments' recycling, waste prevention, and reuse programs according to Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action, Oregon's State Integrated Resource and Solid Waste Management Plan. The 2050 Vision guides statewide policy for managing materials throughout their full life cycles, including recovery, reduction, reuse, and recycling.

Local governments at the forefront

DEQ regulates the cities, counties, and metropolitan service districts (Metro) that provide Oregonians the opportunity to recycle. Oregon's recycling laws give local governments flexibility in implementing materials management programs and meeting voluntary materials recovery goals. The laws also require more from local governments with larger populations and from cities closer to Portland. 

In a 2016 review on potential impacts of new recycling rules, DEQ found that around 90 cities – and their counties in areas between those cities' limits and urban growth boundaries – must offer recycling programs. About 20 of those cities and all Metro cities, as well as their counties, must also implement the Opportunity to Recycle Act's waste reduction and reuse program requirements.​

The Opportunity to Recycle Act provides that, to conserve energy and natural resources, materials management should follow a hierarchy: 

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

Reduce and reuse – local governments' waste prevention and reuse programs 

For waste prevention and reuse programs, certain cities must implement between three and five program elements from a menu of seven: 

  • A citywide or countywide education and promotion program about the environmental benefits of, and opportunities to reduce the generation of waste through, waste prevention and reuse;
  • A waste prevention campaign targeting residential generators of waste and focused on one or more toxic or energy intensive materials or consumer purchasing practices;
  • A waste prevention campaign targeting commercial or institutional generators of waste and focused on one or more toxic or energy intensive materials or consumer purchasing practices;
  • A waste prevention and reuse education program in elementary and secondary schools;
  • A program for the providing city or wasteshed funding or infrastructure support to promote and sustain reuse, repair, leasing, or sharing efforts;
  • A program for the providing city or wasteshed technical assistance to promote and sustain the reuse, repair or leasing of materials or other sharing of efforts to reduce waste; and
  • City or wasteshed support for a food rescue program.

Recycle and compost – local governments' recycling programs

Oregon also offers local governments flexibility to implement their recycling programs using a menu of thirteen program elements: 

  • Provision of at least one durable recycling container to each residential service customer;
  • On-route collection at least once each week of source separated recyclable material from residential collection service customers, which is provided on the same day solid waste is collected from each customer;
  • An expanded education and promotion program including a contamination reduction education plan;
  • A multifamily collection program that includes recycling collection and education for tenants;
  • An effective residential yard debris collection and composting program that includes the promotion of home composting of yard debris;
  • A commercial recycling program that includes weekly onsite collection of source separated principal recyclable materials and education for commercial generators;
  • Expanded depots for recycling of at least all principal recyclable materials, and provisions for promotion or education to maximize the use of the depots;
  • Solid waste residential collection rates that encourage waste reduction, reuse and recycling through reduced rates for smaller containers, including at least one rate for a container that is at least 21 gallons;
  • A collection and composting system for food and other compostable waste from commercial and institutional entities that generate large amounts of such wastes;
  • A commercial recycling program that requires commercial generators of solid waste that generate large amounts of recyclable materials to source separate recyclable materials;
  • A program for monthly or more frequent on-route collection and composting for food and other compostable waste from residential collection service customers;
  • A recovery program for construction and demolition debris that requires construction and demolition debris to be source separated at the generation site or sent to a material recovery facility for processing and recovery; and
  • A food waste collection program requiring nonresidential generators that generate large amounts of food waste to source separate the food waste for recovery.​

Early history

A shortage of landfill space encouraged the Oregon legislature to pass the Opportunity to Recycle Act in 1983. The law established solid waste management policies that recognized the environmental benefits of waste prevention, reuse and recycling. The law also required wastesheds to have recycling depots and cities with populations over 4,000 to provide monthly curbside recycling collection service to all garbage service customers. 

The 1991 Oregon Recycling Act (SB 66) strengthened and broadened recycling requirements and added activities to develop markets for recyclable materials. SB 66 set a statewide recovery goal of 50 percent by 2000 and required that DEQ conduct regular waste composition studies and develop a solid waste management plan. SB 66 also created the first eight recycling program elements. The 1997 Oregon Legislature made changes to some of those elements and added a ninth. 

Also in 1997, a coalition of experts developed a strategy to move Oregon's resource recovery efforts beyond recycling. A resulting program offered local governments a two percent recovery rate credit for establishing and maintaining programs in waste prevention, reuse and backyard composting.


Transition to materials management

In 2011, DEQ convened a workgroup to help develop a long-term vision and framework for responsible materials management in Oregon. The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission adopted the resulting Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action (2050 Vision). The 2050 Vision is also Oregon's State Integrated Resource and Solid Waste Management Plan. The 2050 Vision guides statewide policy for managing materials throughout their full life cycles, including recovery, reduction, reuse, and recycling. 

In June 2015, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB 263). SB 263 better enables DEQ, local governments, and Oregonians to make progress under the 2050 Vision. Among other things, SB 263: 

  • Raised statewide recovery rates;
  • Set statewide material-specific recovery rates for food waste, plastic waste, and carpet waste;
  • Made wastesheds' self-determined recovery goals voluntary to give local governments more flexibility;
  • Increased to thirteen the number of recycling program elements available to local governments (effective Jan. 1, 2018, per rule);
  • Amended the expanded education and promotion program element to include a contamination reduction education aspect (effective Jan. 1, 2018, per rule);
  • Increased minimum numbers of recycling program elements required for certain cities based on their population sizes and distances from Portland (effective Jan. 1, 2018, per rule);
  • Added seven waste prevention education and reuse program elements, requiring minimums ranging from three to five elements depending on cities' populations or location within Metro (effective Jan. 1, 2018, per rule);
  • Allows a local government using a DEQ-approved alternative program the flexibility of meeting either the lesser of its recovery goal or recovery levels comparable to similar communities (effective Jan. 1, 2018, per rule);
  • Expands statewide the opportunity to recycle to residential and commercial tenants of multi-tenant properties with collection service (effective July 1, 2022, per statute); and
  • Permits DEQ to develop outcome-based recovery goals to measure recovery using methods besides materials' weight, such as energy savings.
  • Revenue to fund DEQ expenses directly related to the proposed rules was anticipated during the development of Senate Bill 245 (SB 245), which allowed for increases in tipping fees. The legislature also passed SB 245 in June 2015 as a companion to SB 263.​

Current recovery goals

Under Oregon's recycling laws, the state's mandatory rate of material recovery from the general solid waste stream is 52 percent for 2020. That rises to 55 percent for 2025 and subsequent years. The law also sets mandatory statewide material-specific recovery rates for:  

  • Food waste – 25 percent by 2020;
  • Plastic waste – 25 percent by 2020; and
  • Carpet waste – 25 percent by 2025. 

DEQ measures the state's progress through statewide surveys and waste characterization and composition studies. DEQ must report to the Legislature on whether the recovery goals are being met. 

Each wasteshed – Oregon counties, Metro, and the City of Milton-Freewater – also has its own voluntary recovery goal in statute. Wastesheds set their recovery goals through whatever methods they chose. Wastesheds' recovery goals vary from highs of 64 percent for Metro and Marion County to 20 percent in some counties. 

History of recovery rates in Oregon

Besides broadening recycling requirements, the Oregon Legislature's passage of SB 66 in 1991 did the following: 

  • Set a statewide recovery goal of 50 percent by 2000 and interim recovery goals for individual wastesheds by 1995;
  • Required DEQ to calculate material recovery rates annually to measure progress toward the 50 percent goal; and
  • Required DEQ to conduct a waste composition study every other year to determine what materials are being disposed of and to inform local government recycling program planning. 

Solid waste generation – the total amount of “waste" materials, whether recycled, composted or disposed – grew each year through the 1990s. The amount of materials recovered also grew steadily. But, by 2000, Oregon had not reached 50 percent recovery. 

So in 2001, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 3744 (HB 3744). HB 3744 lowered the statewide recovery goal to 45 percent for 2005 and set a 50 percent goal for 2009. HB 3744 also required each wasteshed that did not achieve its 2005 or 2009 goal to conduct a technical review of its programs and determine revisions to be implemented to meet the wasteshed's recovery goal. 

Further, HB 3744 set two statewide waste generation goals and added waste prevention language to Oregon law: (1) by 2005, there would be no annual increase in per capita municipal solid waste generation; and (2) by 2009, there would be no annual increase in total municipal solid waste generation. In 2010, Oregon met its 50 percent statewide recovery goal. 

For more information, contact the DEQ's Materials Management Program, Portland, at 503-229-5696 or the Materials management technical assistance staff in your nearest DEQ regional office. Detailed information about individual wasteshed recovery rates and recovery rate goals is also available.​​