Overnight, a couch appears on the corner of your street. It looks stylish from half-a-block away but close-up it’s a mess: springs have pierced the shiny fabric on the seat, and it’s badly stained. The couch sits gloomily on the corner. It gets rained on. A couple of cushions disappear. A bag of trash is left on top of it. No one’s sure how this will end.
Report dumped garbage quickly. That way, the pile is less likely to grow.
If you see someone illegally dumping something, says Metro planner Tiffany Gates, don’t approach them or be confrontational. Get a description and a license plate number.
Then report to Metro at 503-234-3000 or use the online form.
Garbage left on public property is considered illegal dumping. Since 1993, Metro has worked with other government agencies to clean this stuff up.
In fact, says Metro solid waste planner Tiffany Gates, the three crews that make up Metro’s Regional Illegal Dumping Patrol, also known as the RID Patrol, collected 440 tons of trash dumped at 3,500 different dump sites across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties in 2017.
That number is up from 2016, when two crews collected 335 tons.
Gates says the addition of a third clean-up crew meant that “we could get to more sites and say yes to more things.”
Here’s a look at some of other clean-up numbers from 2017.
Most commonly dumped items: the big stuff
In 2017 Metro's dumping patrol picked up:
- 1973 tires
- 994 mattresses
- 555 couches
- 491 shopping carts
Crews also pick up thousands of syringes, a huge safety issue for workers. Other hazardous waste like paint, television sets and items that contain asbestos, can also be in the mix.
Most dumps occur in neighborhoods
Garbage is mainly dumped in residential areas, says Gates. Last year, of the 3,500 clean-ups:
- 2,517 appeared to come from households
- 48 appeared to come from businesses and contained things like construction debris or large amounts of lumber.
- 349 dump sites were in parks.
- 56 were near school grounds.
- 93 were in or near local creeks, rivers and wetlands.
And 45 dumps were in the “other” category, which could include places such as bioswales or golf courses.
The vast majority of cleanups were in Portland, and while there is no one reason for this, some factors may include denser population and varying levels of other types of street maintenance and cleanup services in cities around the region. Portlanders also tend to create more free piles, which, when they linger and are not maintained, become garbage piles.
Reasons for dumping vary, and so do better options
It’s hard to know why any one mattress or pile of clothes ends up in a nearby alley or along the highways. But getting rid of trash isn’t always easy. Limited income or lack of a vehicle can leave you with few options. And not everyone knows what their options are. Here are a few:
If you opt to do a free pile, keep it on your property. Advertise your cast-offs on websites such as the FreeCycle Network, Nextdoor or Craigslist.
Gates says some charities will take furniture. But if it’s garbage, any hauler will pick it up for a fee. “You need to pre-arrange it. Charges run about $25 to $75 but a second item is much cheaper,” she says.
Reuse and recycling options for mattresses are limited. The experts at Metro’s recycling information hotline will be able to give you 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.
Dumpers can be fined
In addition to cleaning up the messes, Metro also investigates dumping incidents, and culprits can be fined up to $500 plus the cost of cleanup and the cost of a detective’s time. Gates hasn’t seen a fine higher than $3,000.
In 2017, Metro wrote 19 illegal dumping citations. In 2016, 31 citations were issued. The drop, says Gates is the result of less detective time on cases. Detectives gather witness statements or incriminating evidence, such as mail or prescription bottles, from the dump site. “In 2017, our third detective, who worked illegal dump cases full-time, retired,” says Gates. The two current detectives are Multnomah County Sheriffs on loan to Metro.
Gates hopes to replace the third detective this year.