Since Oregon passed the nation's first bottle bill in the early 1970s it has been touted as a leader in recycling.
But Oregonians now are throwing away more than ever""about 3,000 pounds per person a year""and state officials are looking at ways to discourage buying so much in the first place""or buy it used.
The population is growing and the state's recycling efforts are falling behind. But disposal experts say much of the waste is in the manufacturing process of things that don't last and probably aren't necessary.
To cut consumption and waste and manufacturing emissions, state regulators are writing a strategy to urge people to consider smaller houses, avoid buying things they don't need, using tap water instead of the stuff in plastic bottles that tends to be tap water anyway, buying used, not new and fixing things that break instead of replacing them.
From an environmental standpoint, recycling a product or buying one made with as little energy as possible is good, said David Allaway, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's point man for waste prevention.
But usually, he said, not buying the product at all is better because recycling comes after the energy and resources for making it already are spent.
"There's a notion that a full recycling bin indicates environmental progress," he said. "We'd rather have more in the recycling bin and less in the garbage. But buying large quantities of stuff and recycling it isn't good for the environment."
Oregon's plan was to stop growth of waste per person by 2005. But it grew by 5 more than percent from 2004 to 2005. From 1993 to 2005, it grew by more than two-thirds.
The new draft strategy would set a waste prevention agenda through 2017 but it lacks a budget or timetable and avoids such touchy topics as legislative mandates, steeper planning fees for bigger houses, and carbon taxes that penalize energy-hog products.
It calls instead for promoting green residential building including smaller, more durable design.
Stopping the growth in waste generates the third-highest greenhouse gas savings, behind boosting auto mileage and increasing renewable energy.
While waste has been growing, researchers are finding that business has lightened packaging and manufacturers see waste reduction as their environmental priority, according to a survey for Dow Corning.
Consumer demand has been a tougher nut to crack, in part because of higher incomes and lower-priced imports.
in King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, Tom Watts, the county's eco-consumer expert who also coordinates the National Waste prevention Coalition, appears in television spots urging people to think before they buy.
Allaway of Oregon's DEQ has worked on waste prevention for 17 years and says enthusiasm for recycling is rising at the government level.
But "Where are the businesses who have a financial interest in telling people to buy less stuff?" he asked.
He said local governments don't want to spend taxpayer dollars promoting 'Buy Nothing Day.'
"On the surface, it looks bad for the economy," he said, "Our point is you can stimulate the economy without spending on cheap, wasteful goods."
Julie Daniel, director of BRING Recycling in Eugene, helped advise the state on the plan and wants tougher mandates for waste prevention and green products. But she's optimistic that consumers will rein in their buying.
She said she has been impressed by "just really understanding that the environmental impact happens before I even go to the store" and plans purchases accordingly.
That includes buying a used $100 TV last year. She shares with neighbors, buys in bulk, rents tools looks for durability and thinks twice before she hits the checkout counter.
She came to the West Coast in the early 1970s.
"Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of new products," she said. "Recycling is an incredibly effective way to deal with waste after you've made it. But it does nothing to deal with waste in the first place."
Oregonians throwing away more