© Ian Allenden | Dreamstime.com

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines sustainable materials management (SMM) as “an approach to serving human needs by using and reusing resources productively and sustainably throughout their life cycles, generally minimizing the amount of materials involved and all associated environmental impacts.”

The state of Oregon’s 2050 Vision of Materials Management does not adhere to zero-waste-to-landfill standards or increasing recycling. Rather, adopting the SMM approach, it focuses on reducing the volume of waste created by the state.

David Allaway and Elaine Blatt, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) natural resource specialists, explained Oregon’s waste management plan in a webinar as a part of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Web Academy, Jan. 19, 2017.

REDUCTION FOCUSED

Oregon’s waste management strategy from 1983 until 2010 focused on prevention and reuse. It was motivated by resource conservation and pollution reduction, not by landfill avoidance, following the solid waste hierarchy of the time, Allaway said.

In 1983, the solid waste hierarchy listed reducing waste as the most favored path to materials management, he said. Reuse, recycling/composting and then energy recovery followed in that order. Disposal was listed as the least favored tactic in the hierarchy.

“Sustainable materials management does not mean purposefully creating products to be recyclable,” Allaway said. “Recycling is a part of, and works with, sustainable materials management, but we wanted to explore a statewide plan for sustainable materials management because there was nothing else like it.”

In 2011, the state began to develop Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action. From 2013 to 2015, Oregon developed legislation to begin working toward this vision.

Senate Bill 263, which passed in 2015, two years after its proposal, strengthened the DEQ’s long-term funding for its management program and updated existing solid waste laws by expanding recycling and new waste prevention/reuse requirements. It changed statewide waste recovery and generation goals and required a change in how Oregon counts recovery from tons to environmental outcomes.

The initial implementation of the 2050 Vision started in 2016 and continues traditional solid waste and recycling work the state already does. It also adds new upstream work, such as creating a low-carbon concrete market through a database that shows carbon numbers from several concrete manufacturers.

A large portion of the state’s waste reduction goals aligns with its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To do this effectively, Allaway said, Oregon should reconsider the way it measures GHG emissions.

AIN’T EASY BEING GREEN

The Oregon DEQ wants to take an alternative route to measure GHG emissions, he said. Most commonly, emissions are measured per state rather than by where the emissions are coming from within the state. He said, because of this, the measurement provides an incomplete scope of how certain communities contribute to emissions generation.

“Consumption-based” measurements can be used to identify hot spots that have high emissions or high consumption intensities and to design programs to address these areas. The DEQ can use information from these hot spots to educate community members on how to reduce greenhouse gases and enhance the credibility of the larger inventory and climate action planning.

“Measuring emission intensity is an important measurement because each item has a different intensity,” Allaway said. “Clothing and food are two high-intensity emitters, for example, and are priority focus areas.”

Allaway said that based on in-boundary emissions alone, the measurement also may provide misleading signals of change over time.

Oregon isn’t the only U.S. state or community to measure its emissions this way. The city of San Francisco; King County, Washington; Portland and Eugene, Oregon; and 114 cities within the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in California have implemented consumption-based emissions standards. Additionally, Minnesota and members of the C40, a global network of cities committed to addressing climate change, are in the process of implementing this approach.

Oregon reports “in-boundary,” or state-based, and consumption-based emissions every five years to show every angle of emissions generation and to provide a wider range of reduction options.

Consumption-based emissions are defined in economic terms. This method includes consumer purchases by household, including single-family and multifamily homes, governmental bodies and businesses. Consumption, which includes fuel, electricity, materials and services, is the root driver of emissions in the community. Within Oregon, materials are the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Of the 16 major consumption categories, vehicles and parts; appliances; and food and beverages are the greatest emitters in Oregon, amounting to 48 percent in 2014. The Oregon DEQ has focused on food because it lacks emissions regulation.

FINDING FOOD WASTE SOLUTIONS

The first and simplest step to reducing food waste, Blatt said, is changing the terminology.

“‘Wasted food’ causes attention to a valuable resource of food,” she said. “‘Food waste’ calls attention to diversion methods.”

As a part of the state’s waste reduction plans, the DEQ’s goal for wasted food is reduction rather than reuse. “Source reduction causes much less greenhouse gas emissions than anaerobic digestion, composting and combustion,” Blatt said.

In 2011, the state began to develop Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action. From 2013 to 2015, Oregon developed legislation to begin working toward the vision.

Forty percent of the food produced in the U.S. or imported into the country is wasted, the EPA says. If that food was grown on one farm, Blatt said, it would be larger than New Mexico.

The Oregon DEQ uses the solid waste hierarchy that its 2050 vision is based on for wasted food as well, with waste reduction being the top priority, followed by feeding the hungry, feeding animals, industrial uses, anaerobic digestion, composting and incineration or landfill. (See the graphic.)

The Oregon DEQ says source reduction reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions per ton of food by 3.66 metric tons, while combustion results in a savings of 0.14 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per ton of food; compost, 0.18; and anaerobic digestion, 0.06. Landfill, however, produces 0.54 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per ton of food.

“We should be telling people to eat their portion, share if they can’t finish, then compost the unwanted food,” Blatt said. “Not immediately compost the food they don’t eat.”

The DEQ’s goals are to reduce uneaten wasted food by 15 percent in 2025 and by 40 percent by 2050, thereby reducing GHG emissions, water and energy use and wasted resources.

In the next five years, nine projects will take priority to meet these goals. Several of the projects focus on research, including a GHG measurement study; education and food rescue; date labeling in grocery stores; an analysis of prevention practices; economics of wasted food reduction; and packaging impacts.

The other projects, Blatt said, use a ground test approach to build on the research and include best commercial practices, community and commercial educational campaigns and piloting a new strategy for wasted food in school kitchens.

The Oregon DEQ also plans to partner with the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a community of government leaders from several jurisdictions along the Pacific Coast that is working against climate change, to further its waste reduction goals.

The author is assistant editor of the Waste Today and can be contacted at hcrisan@gie.net