Metro Council voted today to approve a plan that will shape the way greater Portland manages the garbage and recycling system for the next 12 years – including everything from the way products are made to how to shape jobs in the industry.
The 2030 Regional Waste Plan is the fourth such plan that Metro has crafted — a process it goes through roughly once a decade.
Community voices: Valerie Curbelo
The draft 2030 Regional Waste Plan was presented to Metro Council last Thursday in advance of today’s vote, and community members had the chance to share their views about the plan directly with the Council. Valerie Cubelo took that opportunity.
Two years ago, Curbelo graduated from Constructing Hope, a nonprofit that helps participants gain skills in preparation for apprenticeships in the trades. Through Constructing Hope’s partnership with Metro, she was invited to join the community engagement effort that helped shape the 2030 Regional Waste Plan.
Now, she works on Metro’s RID Patrol through a contract with Constructing Hope, picking up garbage that is dumped on public property around greater Portland.
“Thanks to this partnership I now have full comprehensive healthcare that I use to treat my previously unchecked mental illness,” she said. “And I am open about this because I know I am not alone in this. Mental illness plagues the county as the silent disability.”
Curbelo mentioned Goal 3 in the Regional Waste Plan, which aims to offer living wages and good benefits for all jobs in the garbage and recycling industry.
“This opportunity with Metro and Constructing Hope makes me feel like I’m finally taking my first solid steps toward success,” she said. “And I would want nothing more than to see similar opportunities open up for those who need it most.”
“Rich or poor, we all make garbage,” Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González said at the hearing on the plan last Thursday. Prior to being elected, González participated in a group that helped create the plan.
“What I think is so special about the Regional Waste Plan is it’s an opportunity to redefine how this system works— because traditionally it’s been a system that distributes the burdens more so than the benefits,” said González. “And this is a very intentional tool that we’re going to use to distribute those benefits, economically and systemically.”
New plan reaches beyond just garbage and recycling
Before the 7-0 vote today Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen today remarked on all they've learned since the creation of the last waste plan and how that knowlege has evolved the approach. "Garbage begins when a product is designed and then when it’s made and when it’s used and when it’s transported " Dirksen said. "In order to truly reduce waste ... you need to think of the entire cycle."
Dirksen's comments echo remarks from Metro resource conservation and recycling program director Matt Korot. When Korot co-presented the plan to Council last week, he described the the plan as addressing “two intertwined systems and their opportunities to improve equity, environmental and health outcomes.”
One system involves how products are made. Korot said if we want the greatest reduction in harmful health and environmental impacts, we need to look at what the folks who study this topic call the “life cycle” of the products we use and find ways to make things that use fewer resources and less-toxic materials.
The other system, Korot says, is the one that manages what we throw away. This includes the facilities and services that haul our garbage and sort and sell our recycling.
In fact, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is already using this broader approach.
The department’s data show less than one percent of climate-changing emissions around greater Portland are generated by managing what we throw away. Comparatively, 99 percent of these emissions come from things we manufacture, buy and use.
“One of the most important parts of this plan is what it would do about products – the generation of these products that end up being trash,” said Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick during last week's hearing. “And then, of course, what do we do about plastic?” she asked, suggesting that we find ways to generate less of it over the next 10 years.
Work ahead to include oversight and measurement of progress
With the plan now adopted, Metro staff will work on implementing the actions in partnership with city and county governments and in collaboration with garbage and recycling businesses, local nonprofits and community-based organizations. And over the next two years, Metro will work to collect baseline data on the plan’s stated goals and to develop approaches to evaluate the progress.
The plan will also include a new oversight committee to to ensure that the same attention to inclusion that went into forming the plan will be carried throughout implementation.
González said he believes everyone appointed to oversight committees should have “a baseline understanding of racial equity before they even engage in the work—in the form of a briefing or learning—so that we don’t have one person who is the racial equity person in the room.”
Read the plan
The oversight framework includes the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, Metro’s Committee on Racial Equity, and a Regional Waste Plan Implementation Committee. Metro staff members say that the implementation committee will have significant community representation—alongside representatives from local government, the garbage and recycling industry and environmental advocacy organizations.
Once the advisory committee is formed, work will move forward at local levels—possibly with the help of specific work groups— to develop short-term timelines, identify resources and prioritize actions.
Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said he noticed actions to be complete by 2030. But, he said, “there are some things here that we could be doing much earlier.”