Greater Portland recycled and composted more than 60 percent of its trash in 2015, a slight increase from the recovery rate in 2014, state officials said Monday.
The recovery rate is a measure of how much of what people and businesses throw away that goes to recycling centers, compost piles, energy recovery facilities and other places that use trash instead of sending it to landfills.
The goal for greater Portland is 64 percent, according to officials from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The region came close to setting that mark in 2013, hitting 63 percent, before declining to 59.6 percent in 2014.
Overall, Portland residents and businesses sent 1,253 pounds of waste to the landfill per capita, while 1,495 pounds of waste per person recycled, composed or converted to energy.
Matt Korot, director of Metro's resource conservation and recycling program, said the numbers are a proxy for the significant benefits from recycling.
"That includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving water and forests, all the things that really matter to the environment, and to the residents of the region," Korot said. "They are a reflection of the amazing efforts of residents and businesses to recover their waste."
Overall, greater Portland generated an average of 2,748 pounds of waste – both recovered and trashed – per capita, the highest amount in the last five years. That, Korot said, is likely because of economic growth, particularly in construction.
About 80 percent of the growth in recycling was made of cardboard and scrap metal, another indication that the growing economy led to more waste generation.
Korot said the growth in waste per capita is a reminder that the best way to protect the environment is to be thoughtful consumers.
"Recycling will continue to be important, but it’s also important to think about the purchases we make," he said. "Are there choices available for recycled packaging? For no packaging? Are there ways to buy products that last longer and therefore waste less over time? We’ve got work to do to keep waste generation down."
That, in turn, translates to less energy, water and other natural resources going into making things that get thrown away, and then dealing with them after they've been tossed.
"The less waste that's going to landfills, the better off our region and state will be," said Metro Councilor Bob Stacey. "We all appreciate having cleaner air and water, and using less energy and other natural resources to manage the stuff we no longer want."