Hardly A Waste of Time: Taking A Moment To Learn What DEQ Is Doing
An Interview with David Allaway, Senior Policy Analyst at Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Rogue Valley Messenger: The Waste Prevention Strategy was adopted in 2007. Can you talk about how this plays out in southern Oregon?
David Allaway: The 2007 Strategy was an early document, and has since been replaced in part with Oregon’s 2050 Vision for Materials Management, and more focused strategic plans addressing wasted food, reuse and repair, and the built environment. Through these, we’ve supported workforce development efforts in reuse and repair businesses, are actively working to reduce the wasting of food, including several projects in the Rogue Valley, and refocused our state grants program to give greater priority to prevention and reuse (over recycling). For example, DEQ funded a $7,512 grant to Southern Oregon University to reduce the amount of food waste generated at its residential dining hall by reducing plate sizes from 10.5 to 9 inches. Additionally, in March DEQ hosted a Food Waste Prevention Workshop in Medford, where approximately 20 different foodservice businesses participated to find ways to reduce food waste in their kitchens.
RVM: Perhaps this is a simple question, but: Why does this matter? What is at risk or being threatened by “waste”?
DA: In this country, the problem isn’t really “waste” as garbage, but rather the impacts of making all of the stuff that becomes waste. For example, 41 percent of our state’s global carbon footprint (the “consumption-based greenhouse gas inventory”) stems from materials. Of those emissions, one percent come landfills, while 99 percent are a result of supply chains, production and transportation. Recycling can only moderately mitigate those impacts. Using less stuff in the first place is a more important strategy, as recognized in state law that says essentially “reduce first, and then reuse, and only then recycle.”
RVM: To reduce waste is to push back against some massive market forces. For households, if you could make change one consumption habit, what would that be?
DA: For households, one of the most important waste prevention behaviors is to waste less food—not through composting, but by not wasting food in the first place. Twenty-five to 40 percent of all of the food produced in this country is never eaten, and producing that food is both a massive waste of money and resources. Of the food that is tossed out by Oregon households, about 70 percent was, at one point, edible. By being more careful with what we buy and how we store and prepare food, households can reduce impacts and save money.
RVM: Is it silly to think that with the burgeoning economy of online shopping that household waste has increased significantly and detrimentally with all of the packaging?
DA: No, that’s a fair assessment. But packaging isn’t the sole problem and it isn’t always a big one. If online shopping means that a resident of Williams avoids driving their car to Grants Pass to buy one item, that’s a good trade-off for the environment. But if a household has multiple online deliveries being made to their home every week, the impacts of all of that delivery are probably much higher than the packaging. Also, let’s not forget: packaging is the most visible sign of waste, but the stuff inside the package—the product—is often far more impactful when it comes to overall resource depletion and pollution.
RVM: So much of the work that needs to be done with waste reduction seems to be changing minds, attitudes and habits—and this seems to require a marketing campaign. In some ways, is this like advertising, but for an idea and for anti-consumerism?
DA: That is a very interesting way of positioning it. Communication is so important. Everybody from manufacturers, businesses, governments, individuals and nonprofits have a part to play to change minds, attitudes and habits to live sustainably. But waste reduction can also be realized through changes in how businesses produce goods and even how buildings are designed and constructed.
Currently DEQ has two Waste Prevention Campaigns available on our website to help local communities spread the word with templates and messages ready to use. Folks can also learn about our new reports and tools by subscribing to our emails alerts about food or any other Materials Management subject matter.
RVM: If you were able to get a person to change two habits about waste management, what would those be?
DA: Waste prevention is ultimately about using less stuff. It’s about purchasing and use, not waste management. And it can take so many forms: extending the life of products through repair and reuse, buying more durable items, wasting less food, reusing packaging, skipping single-use products, and gifting experiences as opposed to things.
A second habit would involve recycling, and especially the need to “recycle right.” With so many items to sort, it can be confusing to know what is and isn’t recyclable. We recently created a Recycle Right! webpage to help residents learn what to keep out of their bins, and to remember to only place empty, clean and dry materials in their bins.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is awarding up to $600,000 in grants. Local governments, nonprofit organizations and federally-recognized tribal nations are encouraged to apply. Funding for projects that prevent wasted food is also available to public schools, colleges and universities.