Report dumped garbage quickly. That way, the pile is less likely to grow.
Call Metro at 503-234-3000 or use the online form.
You know the saying. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And there are tons of examples where this is true. Repurposing, restoring and upcycling are more than buzz words. They are real social trends—with bonafide TV shows to prove it.
But sometimes, there’s no way around another truth.
That pile of junk that appears mysteriously overnight on your street corner or back alley is just plain garbage. And nobody’s coming to claim it.
For more than 25 years now, Metro has been working with community partners to clean up illegal dumps on public property.
“I’ve been doing this since 2007, so I’m not really surprised by anything anymore,” says Tiffany Gates, Metro solid waste planner. She works closely with the three crews that make up Metro’s Regional Illegal Dumping Patrol, as known as the RID Patrol.
“I guess I’m still a little surprised that we get dumps of so many electronics because there are so many places that you can recycle those for free,” she says. “I’m also surprised what people put on the corner with a free sign – because no one wants a mattress once it’s used and rained on.”
Last year the RID Patrol collected 392 tons of garbage from 3,803 dump sites across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties. An average of 32 tons—that’s the equivalent in weight to about two 81-passenger school busses—a month.
The numbers are down slightly from 2017 when they collected a total of 440 tons.
Here’s the break-down of the clean-up numbers from 2018.
Most commonly dumped items: the usual items and a whole lot of sharps
In 2018 Metro’s dumping patrol picked up:
- 9,879 medical needles
- 1,519 tires
- 979 mattresses
- 685 couches
- 489 shopping carts
For years, RID crews have been picking up high numbers of medical syringes with needles, known as sharps. But 2018 was the first year that Metro began tallying them. Sharps easily top the list—and pose the greatest safety hazard for workers.
The number of tires found last year was down from 2017 when crews picked up 1,973. Numbers for the rest of the top five items remained nearly unchanged.
Neighborhoods see the most dumping
Where crews found garbage dumped last year was similar to the previous year. In 2018, of the 3,803 different clean-up sites:
- 2,708 appeared to come from households.
- 91 appeared to come from businesses and may have contained things like construction debris or large amounts of lumber.
- 447 dump sites were in parks.
- 87 were near school grounds.
- 58 were in or near local creeks, rivers and wetlands.
The bulk of illegal dumpings—3,522—were reported in Multnomah County. There was about a 38 percent decrease of clean-up sites near creeks, rivers and wetlands. The rest of the top dumping sites saw increases.
It’s hard to say exactly why this is. Portland certainly has the highest population. And different cities around the region have different levels of street-clearing and hauling services. Also, Portlanders seem to create more free piles. When free piles stick around too long and aren’t maintained, they become trash.
Alternatives to dumping are available
There’s no one explanation for why these piles of cast-off furniture, car parts or used clothes pop up overnight. But getting rid of garbage isn’t always easy. If you don’t have access to a truck or the extra cash to pay your hauler, you may not know what else to do with unwanted items.
Here are some options:
Join your neighborhood Buy Nothing group. Started as a local gifting community in the Pacific Northwest, it has spread worldwide via Facebook. It’s a way for people who live near each other to ask for things they need and offer items they want give away.
If you opt to do a free pile, keep it on your property and advertise it on websites such as Nextdoor or Craigslist.
Many charities take donations that are clean and in good condition. They offer a great way to unload your stuff while helping a cause. Some organizations—like Community Warehouse or Vietnam Veterans of America—will even pick up items.
Reuse and recycling options for mattresses are more limited. Search Metro's online tool or ask the experts at Metro’s recycling information hotline can help you find the best options.
You can also take garbage and recycling to Metro’s Central and South transfer stations for a fee. Metro also operates separate facilities at each transfer station location that receive hazardous waste, such as needles, paint and pesticides.
Fines for dumping
In addition to cleaning up illegal dumps, Metro investigates them. Two Multnomah County sheriffs work on loan to Metro. They gather witness statements, video evidence from nearby homes/businesses or other evidence from the dump site.
Dumpers can be fined up to $500 dollars plus the cost of the detectives’ time and the disposal costs.
But Gates would prefer that folks find ways not to dump in the first place.
“Of course we encourage everyone to call the recycling information line if they have something that doesn’t fit in their trash can and they want to know where to get rid of it,” Gates says, referring to Metro’s recycling information hotline.
“And everyone’s hauler will pick up bulky waste items. They will pick up a sofa or a mattress at the curb. You just have to pay them for it,” she continues.“If you are in an apartment, you may not pay your own trash bill. In which case, there are other companies—like Annie Haul or 1-800-GOT-JUNK—that will come and take it from you.”