In December 2012, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, which is the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) policy and rulemaking board, voted unanimously to adopt Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action. The 2050 Vision was developed with the precise goal of shifting from managing wastes to managing materials through the full life cycle of design, production, use and end of life.
This new plan, which includes an update to the expired State's Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, takes a holistic, sustainable approach to managing materials humans consume, recycle and discard. It represents a major shift in the DEQ's management approach. Rather than just the traditional agency model of regulating, inspecting and enforcing industrial activities to address past pollution and present compliance issues, DEQ had the requisite foresight and leadership, choosing instead to focus on the future and long-term goals and priorities. This approach is not at all a business as usual.
Oregon law cites the need to conserve resources and energy and acknowledges limits in the environment’s ability to absorb the impacts of increasing consumption. And, the state is widely recognized as a leader in conserving resources through recycling and proper management of wastes, adopting the nation’s first bottle bill in 1971. Yet this focus on just managing how waste is discarded has limited potential to address the full impacts of materials and the challenges now facing Oregonians and the global environment.
The “vision” part of the document describes “a future where Oregonians produce and use materials responsibly — conserving resources, protecting the environment and living well,” Abby Boudouris, DEQ's policy analyst who coordinated this effort, added. The “framework” section includes a variety of actions Oregon could take to engage designers, producers and consumers and will help DEQ effectively shape state policies and programs to address the plan’s goals.
This document envisions an Oregon in 2050 where:
- Producers make products sustainably. Every option is a sustainable option.
- People live well and consume sustainably.
- Materials have the most useful life possible before and after discard.
To develop the 2050 Vision, DEQ applied The Natural Step approach, which involves “backcasting" — starting with a future vision and then looking back to identify the steps needed to achieve it. DEQ convened a workgroup of stakeholders representing businesses, nongovernmental organizations, local governments, state agencies and individuals to participate in the visioning process. The workgroup met for five daylong meetings and provided ideas, opinions and support drafting the document.
The workgroup recognized that the global demand for materials and products is increasing rapidly, bringing significant impacts to Oregon residents, businesses, communities and the environment. Demand for these materials has led to significant environmental impacts, including toxic chemicals in the air and water; damage to ecosystems; unsustainable use of energy, water and other natural resources; and global warming. Making, transporting, selling and disposing of the materials consumed in Oregon contributes between 35 and 48 percent of Oregon’s consumption-related greenhouse gas emissions — on par with the state’s emissions from the direct consumption of electricity and fuels combined.
To achieve this vision requires attention to materials throughout their lifecycle and to the economic system at large. Taking action early in the life cycle — in design and production — offers the best opportunities to realize the 2050 Vision. While producers shift to more sustainable actions, consumers also have important roles to play in the types of products they demand and how they use them. Effective management of materials at the end of their lives redirects resources back into productive use.
The Framework for Action identifies a need to establish new goals and outcome measures, realign DEQ resources for effective implementation, reprioritize existing resources and secure new resources as needed. Stakeholders involved in the visioning process acknowledged that these foundational actions are essential to move Oregon toward the 2050 Vision. The Framework for Action includes pathways to lead Oregon to desired outcomes, including the following:
- Foundations. This work will create the solid foundation necessary to achieve the 2050 Vision. Foundational work includes setting goals and measuring outcomes, supporting and performing research, and securing stable funding.
- Policies and regulations. DEQ will evaluate and develop policies and regulations that put Oregon on the path toward achieving the 2050 Vision.
- Collaboration and partnerships. Coordination throughout the life cycle of materials and products will support innovative solutions. DEQ will collaborate with other state agencies, businesses, local governments and nongovernmental organizations.
- Education and information. DEQ will share information it develops with partners for distribution to appropriate audiences.
In the Framework, actions at different life cycle stages are identified to support each of these outcomes.
DEQ will work with interested parties across the full life cycle of materials — including but beyond traditional solid waste circles — to implement actions toward achieving the plan’s vision. “Developing the partnerships and competencies necessary for success will take time and will require engaging persons not traditionally involved in DEQ’s work,” Boudouris said.
DEQ and others hope the plan will help address the overarching problems of greenhouse gas emissions, toxic chemicals and other pollutants, as well as resource depletion. “To effectively address evolving challenges and opportunities, Oregon must systematically consider environmental impacts and actions to address them across the full life of materials,” Boudouris said.