Cleanups of public property around the greater Portland region will ramp up in the next few weeks. $10 million in state funding, approved in a bill passed earlier this year, will be going out to state agencies, local governments, and nonprofits to pay for cleanups in highly visible public spaces in ways that will have immediate impact.
Additional crews will remove garbage from the sides of freeways, heavily graffiti tagged buildings will be cleaned and painted, abandoned RVs will be tagged, towed and safely disposed of, and people experiencing homelessness will be paid to remove litter in their communities. These and other cleanups, some already underway, focus on helping communities remove and reduce waste in ways that are most meaningful to them.
The pandemic saw a big rise in littering, graffiti and illegal dumping. At the same time, COVID-19 health and safety restrictions made it harder for Metro – which oversees the garbage and recycling systems in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties – to provide cleanup services and resources. One example: response times for the RID Patrol, which removes trash dumped on public property, got much longer.
In 2021, Metro approved a $3.5 million budget expansion to boost service levels and jumpstart cleanups around the region. In the last six months, the RID Patrol has returned to pre-pandemic response times, now three business days on average, and more than 4,000 gallons of paint have been donated to cover graffiti. Metro also established a Regional Refresh Fund which has funded 54 community bulky waste collection events and other litter-removal projects.
Going forward, the state funding will allow more essential cleanups to happen. “Keeping our region clean is important for our residents and for our environment,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. “Metro is already cleaning nearly 3 tons of trash a day from our region and we know we can do even more thanks to this program. We’re grateful for our state and regional partners for their role in this work, and to the people on the ground helping make a clean region a reality.”
How will the state funding be spent?
Metro’s Regional Cleanup strategy focuses on spending the state cleanup funds in ways that will have immediate impact and serve communities most affected by illegal dumping and litter. The funds cannot be used for any kind of sweep or removal of people living outside or in vehicles.
Funded projects include:
ODOT crew expansions (Approx. $2.6 million): Beginning in August, additional crews will clean up trash and litter on Oregon Department of Transportation right-of-ways along high-use roadways.
Local government cleanup projects: ($2.08 million): Metro approved cleanup projects proposals from eight local governments:
- Clackamas County, Gresham and Portland will use some funds to dispose of abandoned RVs. Safe disposal is expensive, it requires disassembly and then disposal of toxic materials.
- Gresham and Washington County will distribute bulky waste vouchers to people who live in apartments, or multifamily residences.
- Hillsboro and Beaverton will fund litter pickups in urban areas.
- Tualatin and Portland will remove graffiti in public spaces.
- Washington County and Troutdale will fund a work development cleanup crew.
- Clackamas County will provide supplemental garbage collection and pay people experiencing homelessness to do litter pickups in and around camps.
Boat removal and takeback program ($2.7 million): Metro is partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard, Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies to look at how to use this one-time funding to safely remove and dispose of abandoned boats. There are two large sunken vessels on the Columbia, for example, that pose an environmental hazard.
Regional Refresh Fund expansion, ($300,000): This fund sponsors litter pickups, collection events for items that are too large to fit in garbage bins and other cleanups led by non-profits, schools, business district associations and community groups in environmentally sensitive and equity-focused areas.
Community sharps collection box purchase and installation ($500,000): The need for safe, accessible and affordable disposal options for needles increased during the pandemic with supply chain issues impacting the availability of the personal small red disposal boxes. Metro will purchase several large sharps collection boxes to be placed in public spaces so that the community members can safely dispose of needles. Conversations about where these boxes will be installed and who will be responsible for maintaining them are underway.
Funding nonprofits that focus on trash removal ($1 million): These funds will strengthen and sustain organizations that are already leading cleanup efforts in the region, allowing them to operate effectively now and in the future. Nonprofits that will receive awards include SOLVE, Cultivate Initiatives, Trash for Peace and Adopt One Block.