About every 10 years, the Portland area gets the opportunity to re-envision the blueprint that guides how we manage the garbage and recycling system. What we buy, recycle, compost and throw away – and how – can have a range of impacts on people's health, the environment and the economy.
Read the 2030 Regional Waste Plan and share your thoughts on it.
Imagine manufacturers reducing the use of toxic materials in their products and packaging. Imagine expanding services to help people reuse and repair stuff instead of tossing items into the trash. Imagine more comprehensive collection services for everyone - regardless of where they live.
These ideas are among 19 specific goals and 105 related action items found in the draft 2030 Regional Waste Plan. Anyone who lives in greater Portland can read and comment on it before it’s finalized and presented to the Metro Council for adoption.
Draft plan reflects input from community, technical and equity teams
The garbage and recycling system in the greater Portland area is huge, with some 2.4 million tons of garbage, food scraps, yard trimmings, recycling, and hazardous waste flowing through it every year. It also employs thousands of people and generates about $537 million a year.
And it’s a system that constantly is evolving, responding to a variety of global and local factors.
Since the last waste plan was created, the region’s population has grown, impacting everything from traffic to garbage. More recently, we’ve seen shifts in the world’s recycling markets. We have new technologies, consumer products and research tools. And, there is more information about ways the system might be falling short.
“It’s a system that’s supposed to work for everyone," says Karen Blauer, a Metro senior public affairs specialist, who helped organize community engagement as the draft Regional Waste Plan was developed.
“We usually hear from those who are most engaged and they have shaped a system that works best for them,” says Blauer. This time, she says, Metro wanted to make sure more voices were at the table, including “those who have been historically marginalized or who have experienced barriers or greater negative impacts from the system in its current state.”
That’s why the approach to drafting this plan included three parallel and, at times, intersecting processes:
- Metro started by working with eight culturally specific community-based organizations to host community conversations involving close to 100 people. A process of sharing information, listening to experiences and envisioning changes lead to many of the plan’s goals and actions.
- Technical work groups – made of representatives from local governments, haulers, waste/recycling facilities, advocacy groups, nonprofits and community organizations – developed, reviewed and refined action items. They also considered the environmental impacts at each stage of a product’s life, from the extraction of raw materials to disposal.
- An equity work group, recruited via an open letter on the Metro website and social media, participated from the start, and engaged in both the community conversations and technical work groups. The work group members represented a range of experience and expertise in working with historically marginalized communities, such as communities color. The members worked with Metro staff at each step of the way to help draft a plan that considers the needs of all.
Andre Bealer served on the equity work group. “I’m used to being the darkest person in the room, often the only black person,” says Bealer, program coordinator for National Association of Minority Contractors. “Looking around the room at the equity work group meetings and the community conversations, I was amazed.”
By the time the plan is finalized, Metro will have hosted a total of 37 community conversations, 25 technical work groups and 15 equity work groups, all over the course of about a year and a half.
“I think the biggest challenge is just time,” says Marta McGuire, Regional Waste Plan project manager with Metro.
“Convening all of the work groups has been a constant marathon of doing the work and then responding and carrying the conversation forward,” she says.
How a problem with a bed helped shape an action item
When you get a chance to dig into the proposed 2030 Regional Waste Plan, check out Goal 10.
You’ll find an action item there calling for “regularly-occurring bulky waste collection service, with particular emphasis on multifamily communities and lower income households.” Bulky waste is an industry term referring to those large items that don’t fit in the garbage can or dumpster – items like couches.
It’s a direct response to a need that many people expressed in discussions about garbage and recycling. People, unfamiliar with the system, who’ve wondered what to do with an old dresser or TV console. People without the money or means to get rid of other oversized household items.
People like Valerian Dobinda.
He’s a Russian-speaker from Moldova and an elder with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. During one of the community conversations, Dobinda shared a story about his struggle trying to dispose of a mattress he no longer was using.
Wanting to get it out of his apartment, he asked the property manager about putting it outside. She told him that wasn’t allowed.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asked.
She told him to take it to the recyclers.
“I’ve asked four recycling companies – they wouldn’t take it. So I come back to the manager,” he said. “And ask what am I supposed to do?”
She told him to cut it up.
“So I had to cut up a perfectly good mattress,” he says. “Cut it up in pieces, a little piece every day.”
Valerian’s experience highlights the kind of challenges Metro experts say the 2030 Regional Waste Plan is intended to address.
Comment on the draft plan
If you live in the greater Portland region, you have 31 days, starting today, to review the draft plan and tell Metro what you think. Will the plan address your needs? Do you have ideas that could make it better?
“I’ve learned how we can all work together to improve the system,” says Bealer. “There is no easy, quick answer, but we have the opportunity to be more inclusive.”