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In 35 years, the amount of plastic waste generated worldwide is projected to triple1. This is a crisis. Plastic’s role in the climate crisis is largely determined by how we manage it. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) calculates that this year, plastic will release 200 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere NOT from its production but from its end of life2. For comparison, Oregon released 61 million tons of carbon this year - less than one third of the carbon emissions from plastic after its production3.

"Not only are plastics killing marine animals, endangering our health, and creating a global pollution crisis, they are contributing to catastrophic climate change.” 

- Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Project Leader at Greenpeace

How plastic is managed after its production matters. If we ship, landfill, mismanage, and incinerate plastics across the world, not only does this pose environmental challenges but these processes also generate and release carbon into the atmosphere on an astronomical scale. We desperately need a new way to manage and utilize plastic. An unfortunate option is plastic incineration. Incinerating plastics is a growing industry in both our country and in Oregon. The U.S. produced 5.9 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2015 from incinerating plastic alone4. Incineration also releases some of the heaviest GHG known to exist like perfluorocarbons or PFCs which can be a byproduct of incinerating everyday items like takeout food containers. PFCs are expected to stay in the atmosphere for 2,000 - 50,000 years and are up to 12,200 more potent than CO2 as a GHG5. Plastic incineration became popular in our country because of its portrayal as a solution to our plastic waste. Rarely mentioned was that burning a metric ton of plastic in an incinerator results in almost one ton of CO2 emissions6. Incineration is merely the result of our efforts to address plastic, while lacking adequate solutions to properly do so. 

To recycle plastic into building materials is a message to the world that a better alternative exists. To expand the limits of our recycling system will give currently unrecyclable plastic a meaningful end to its life. This will be directly accomplished by where our current plastic providers are sending their waste. By turning plastic into the catalyst for affordable construction of housing-communities, we can move plastic away from incinerators, landfills, natural environments, and international transport, and into building materials that can play a novel role in making housing solutions affordable in our city.


We hope to be an example to the world and a promise that there is still room for innovation within recycling.


Chronic homelessness refers to people living on the streets for over a year or in a repeating cycle of homelessness. Oregon has the highest rate of chronic homelessness in the entire country. Oregon also has the nation’s highest percentage of families that are living unsheltered7. When we study other parts of America we begin to see why. Cities with significant poverty rates, such as Detroit and Philadelphia, exhibit comparatively lower rates of homelessness nationwide, whereas wealthy cities like San Francisco and Seattle grapple with some of the highest homelessness rates8. Conversely, states like West Virginia, which record the highest rates of drug overdose deaths, harbor relatively smaller homeless populations compared to other regions across the country9. This aligns exactly with the statistics of our state. Oregon is not one of the top states in terms of substance abuse10. Oregon is also not in the top ten when it comes to individuals unable to receive Mental Health Care Services11. These statistics show us that although this a complex multifaceted issue, the foundational driver of houselessness always comes back to the issue of housing itself.

Portlanders have seen the widespread construction of apartment complexes, split-lot homes, and neighborhood gentrification; we've also seen a decline in low-income developments. Housing expenses are outpacing income growth, evidenced by a 40% rise in the fair-market rent for a one-bedroom apartment, surpassing $1,600, within a five-year span12. Research indicates that a mere 10% uptick in rental costs correlates with a 13.6% surge in homelessness13. The support people experiencing homelessness require is not one size fits all, but we believe it needs to start with stability- it starts with a home. Recycled Living’s aspiration is to substantially lower the cost to build new Safe Rest Villages and recycle tens of thousands of pounds of plastic while doing so.

" all comes back to the escalation in housing value. Oregon has some of the least amount of rental housing at or below the poverty level".

-  Marisa Zapata

We met with numerous houseless organizations developing Portland’s Safe Rest Villages. As Thomas Hickey, chair of the SMILE Houselessness Response Team had said: “The issue all housing projects are running into is the cost of materials. Building a home costs four times more than it used to - just in materials, not counting land”. Once the pandemic began, the cost of plywood increased from $400 to $1500 per thousand square feet14. We have yet to see building materials return to pre-pandemic levels.


The Safe Rest Village model became successful because free and affordable housing could be constructed by local nonprofits. Its goal was to be an efficient and cost effective way to provide homes as opposed to large residential developments. The current battle is in the high cost of materials and labor. If existing housing nonprofits and developments had access to a modular material made from free recycled plastic, cost and labor would drastically be reduced while simultaneously creating a new avenue for recycling plastic waste. Safe Rest Villages would have a cheaper, sustainable, more efficient way to build homes.

Next, you will hear about our proposal to support existing housing nonprofits with a better material and design alternative.

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