journey to 2050

Published in 2012, Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action, is a guiding document for much of BRING’s current work. This framework was developed by a work-group convened by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that included BRING’s former executive director, Julie Daniel. The document envisioned an Oregon in the year 2050 where materials are produced and used responsibly—conserving resources, protecting the environment, and living well.

BRING’s many programs focus on reducing the impacts of energy-intensive and high-priority materials, and our forward-thinking board of directors has prioritized education and advocacy for Extended Producer Responsibility policies to further support sustainable materials management and the goals of the 2050 Vision.

What is Materials Management?

Materials Management (MM) looks at materials across their entire life cycle. The extraction, production, transportation, and disposal of materials (food, wood, glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles, etc.) create greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that impact every aspect of our environment.

According to the DEQ’s 2020 update to the 2050 Vision, “Oregon’s direct consumption of materials in 2015 contributed approximately 41% of all consumption-based emissions—more than emissions resulting from direct consumption of fuels (22%) and electricity (11%) combined.” With much of Oregon’s consumption-based emissions occurring prior to a product’s purchase, use, and disposal, reducing “upstream” impacts of materials becomes particularly important.

If the goals of the 2050 Vision are to be realized, efforts to address GHG emissions across a product’s life cycle will have to come from entities that sell products in Oregon. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy is one way to encourage Producers to do that. “Producers” are the companies that manufacture the things that consumers buy and use, and they are often the most well-positioned to reduce the impacts of what they make.

Plastic Pollution and the Recycling Modernization Act

In 2021, Oregon lawmakers passed a landmark bill that will not only overhaul the state’s recycling system, it will require that Producers participate.

Signed into law by Governor Kate Brown on August 6, 2021, The Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act will require Producers to share in the costs of recycling. The bill will provide much-needed funding to modernize the recycling system, and includes improving and expanding existing services and developing a list of materials that can be recycled throughout Oregon. A statewide list will reduce recycling confusion and make recycling more accessible to rural areas and multi-family residential communities.

Under the bill, facilities that process curbside materials will be required to meet new standards that ensure better wages and treatment of industry workers, and provide detailed reporting about where recyclables go. Producers will be obligated to make sure that the materials collected in Oregon are free of trash and reach end markets that can handle the material responsibly—preventing plastic pollution and harm to communities.

Funding for the new upgrades will come from a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) that all Producers who sell or distribute packaging in the state will be required to join. The PRO tracks the materials that are on the market in Oregon, and charges Producers for their share. If Producers sell packaging that is not recyclable, or has a greater environmental or health impact, they will be charged higher fees for those products. Ideally, this would incentivize Producers to minimize environmental impacts from packaging and, over time, reduce non-recyclable products on the market and in the environment.

The Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act is a positive step towards Oregon’s 2050 Vision. And that impact has the potential to influence packaging across the United States: the vast majority of brands that sell printed paper and packaging materials in Oregon are global in scale, and many of them are already complying with packaging standards in other countries. With the passage of Oregon’s new requirements (and those that will also soon take effect in Maine), Producers will likely begin to create standardized materials that are suitable for future programs in other states.

What’s next?

When Producers are involved in managing their products across their life cycle, they have the potential to reduce social and environmental harm. And reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to cleaner renewable energy can’t happen fast enough: the newest report released by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints an increasingly dire picture of the climate crisis. Human activity has already heated the planet by 1.1 degrees Celsius and we can no longer stop it from intensifying over the next 30 years.

While Federal policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution generated by global industries continues to lag, state and regional governments have the opportunity to make progress. Oregonians have a proud history of caring for our natural world and we must continue to pressure our elected leaders to support the goals of the 2050 Vision: where people produce and use materials responsibly—conserving resources, protecting the environment, and living well.

To learn more about Oregon’s 2050 Vision for materials management visit https://www.oregon.gov/deq/mm/Pages/Framework.aspx