This story is available in Spanish.
“I was shocked at how much waste is generated, at everything that’s processed,” Perez said.
Perez was one of about 100 people in eight local groups who toured waste facilities this summer to learn about the garbage and recycling system in greater Portland. Metro worked with community-based organizations to organize the tours. Two of them, including the one Perez attended, were conducted in Spanish with the help of Centro Cultural de Washington County and Trash for Peace. Both are local nonprofits that provide services to Latinos living in the region.
Garbage and recycling facilities in greater Portland
Metro manages the garbage and recycling system in greater Portland. A mix of public and privately-owned facilities serve as “transfer stations” where mixed waste from both homes and businesses is sorted. Some are open to the public and take a range of garbage, recycling, wood waste and yard trimmings. The facilities pull out materials, such as cardboard and wood, to be reused or recycled. The rest is packed into containers and trucked to landfills.
Check out a map of the facilities in greater Portland
The tours are part of a larger effort to gather a range of opinions and perspectives that will help shape the 2030 Regional Waste Plan. The Regional Waste Plan is the blueprint for managing and reducing the environmental impacts of garbage and recycling in greater Portland. The 2030 plan is now in development.
Daniela Torres Hernandez, a junior at Portland State University, also went on the Tualatin Valley tour, along with Perez and eight others. Another group – nine Latina women from East Portland – attended a Spanish-language tour at Metro Central transfer station in Northwest Portland. Although both facilities are open to the public and take a variety of waste, most of the participants from both groups were first-time visitors.
Hernandez says she’s glad she had a chance to attend and share her thoughts. “It’s surprising they’re considering our opinions because I’ve never participated in this kind of thing,” she said.
From purchasing to food scraps, participants already thinking about waste
While the tours were held at different facilities, both groups shared similar questions and concerns about the system and a desire to protect human health as well as the environment. People also shared uncertainty about knowing how to safely dispose of certain household items, like batteries and cellphones.
Elizabeth Andrade, who attended the Metro Central tour, says these conversations are important to her because ultimately, she knows they’re for the common good.
“The most interesting thing was what they do with the trash like furniture and toxic waste, because most of the time, we don’t know where all of that ends up,” Andrade said. “I think about the harm to the environment we cause – all because we choose to get rid of stuff like that.”
Andrade, who’s from Mexico, has been living with her family in East Portland for the past six years. She says that learning about sustainable choices, such as more conscious purchasing, is definitely worth it, though it could take time to change habits.
“I think it’s very important we as Latinos receive this type of information because unfortunately, some of us haven’t always lived in that type of culture,” Andrade said.
Juan Campos, who participated in the Tualatin Valley tour with Centro Cultural, lives in Hillsboro and says he attended the tour because there are services he wishes Washington County would provide, like residential food waste collection. Right now, only one city in the county – Forest Grove – provides this service. Beaverton will start in October and it’s available in three other cities across the region – Lake Oswego, Milwaukie and Portland.
“I want to have a thorough understanding of what to keep out of our personal garbage to help the environment and the economy,” Campos said. “If I could compost all of our food scraps and sort out everything that doesn’t have to go in, I could probably cut down our garbage by 25 percent.”
Tours paint a picture of the system
Juan Carlos González, development director at Centro Cultural, says these tours and conversations are important to have because it makes the “massive garbage and recycling operation very real.”
Taking people on facility tours not only engages people, but also makes them an active part of the complex system, González adds.
“It engages people who have historically been disenfranchised and continue to be disenfranchised because although they may participate in the system, they might not know what it looks like,” González said.
After the tours, several of the participants expressed interest in continuing the conversations in their own communities. “It impacted me in that I want to create awareness and give advice to the rest of the community so we can all change together,” Hernandez said.
Participants also emphasized their desire for younger generations to become familiar with the garbage and recycling process. East Portland resident and tour participant Cristina Cacun says she would love for her children to learn this information through school or community programs. She says that when her children were in elementary school, the meetings and programs at the school exposed her to information about the environment and other topics that wasn’t otherwise available to her.
“I used to love going to parent meetings because they’d have so much of that kind of information,” Cacun said. “That way, as a parent, you’re learning along with your children. It’d be great for the children to learn this different information about how to recycle as well."
Diversity, equity and inclusion at Metro
Metro’s work to engage communities of color in the development of the Regional Waste Plan is part of the government’s commitment to ensure the voices across the diverse range of communities in greater Portland are heard.