The Future of Waste - Where Do We Go From Here?



By Lisa McCrummen

Director of Marketing and Development

Center for Sustainable Infrastructure

Last week, CSI’s Executive Director Rhys Roth, and Josh Alpert with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group presented at the Oregon Association of Recyclers Conference. This year’s theme was focused on “The Future of Waste – Where Do We Go From Here?” (See and share the Video!)

Our recycling and waste management systems are generating interest right now because managers are grappling with the most profound set of challenges they’ve faced since the 1970’s.

While Northwest residents have been enthusiastic recyclers for decades, in 2017 our recycling export system received a shock when overseas markets began closing to U.S. recyclables. This caused revenue from local recycling programs to plummet. As governments search for innovative solutions to this crisis and grapple with additional impacts caused by the COVID crisis, recycling costs are rising and more recyclable material is being landfilled.


But these recycling market pressures are just one component in a host of challenges facing our waste systems. Others include changes in packaging that make recycling more difficult, and the failure of waste prevention programs to ‘bend the curve’ and actually reduce the overall size of most waste streams.


Perhaps most important is the need to address pressing environmental and health issues. Many leaders now recognize that the greatest climate impact caused by the products we throw away comes before the waste stage, when the materials in those products are extracted, processed, manufactured, transported and used. And we are becoming increasingly aware that many of the materials used in our products and packaging can have toxic impacts on both human and environmental health.


Check out the video to learn more about what a thriving future might look like – where we create tens of thousands of ‘clean materials’ jobs across our region by 2040, while embracing health and well-being of people and the planet. (And here is more information on CSI’s report, From Waste Management to Clean Materials for a deeper dive!)

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