One by one the women show up to the parking lot at Rockwood Station apartments. On a cool spring morning, they greet each other with warm smiles and hugs before putting on their safety gear and getting to work.
“We remove old decals, clean bins and apply new decals,” says Anallely Rodriguez, field and outreach manager for Trash for Peace, one of three community partners – including Junk It Junk Removal and PSU Community Environmental Services – that are helping Metro make good on its commitment to improve garbage and recycling services across the region.
Her crew is made up of Spanish-speaking and bilingual environmental promoters whose families all live in apartments.
Metro’s regional decal project offers them – all working mothers – a flexible schedule, decent wages and the opportunity to advance Trash for Peace’s mission of reducing waste and encouraging resilient communities. “The work is really important,” Rodriguez says, “Not just for us but for the community.”
By the end of June, all three of Metro’s community partners will have posted new signage – about what can and cannot be recycled – at roughly 6000 multifamily sites. The project covers apartments, condos, mobile home parks, retirement communities, etc. – places where residents share garbage and recycling services.
Over the years, residents of apartments and condos – especially low-income units – have told Metro that their garbage and recycling services weren’t meeting their needs. Collection bins often are overflowing. Signage is missing, in poor condition or hard to understand. And bin colors are confusing.
The multifamily regional service standard
Metro has adopted new standards to improve garbage and recycling service for people who live in apartments and condominiums in greater Portland.
So, in 2020, the Metro Council updated the multifamily regional service standard, introducing a number of changes aimed at making the system work better.
“The regional decal project is the first visible step of the updated regional service standards to improve garbage and recycling services for people living in multifamily homes,” Lisa Clark, Metro program coordinator says.
People who live in apartments will see consistent garbage and recycling signage by December of 2023. This means that people will have the same information on their bins no matter where they live in the region.
The service standard includes updates to be implemented by the owners of multifamily properties. The standard established collection minimums for garbage, mixed recycling and glass. And it required collection service for bulky waste to begin by July of 2025 – addressing oversized items like furniture and appliances that won’t fit in the bins.
The new standard also calls for consistent bin colors to be phased in by local hauling companies before July of 2028. Gray or black for garbage. Blue for mixed recycling. Green for yard debris. Orange for glass. In some places, the new bins are already here.
“Providing quality and accessible service to people where they live is an essential responsibility,” says Metro Councilor Gerritt Rosenthall. “I am grateful to the community members who elevated [their concerns] for Metro to take action. I invite folks to keep providing their feedback as we continue to foster healthier and safer communities.”
Local governments and community-based organizations worked with Metro to develop the new universal signage. Informed by effective messaging used in other cities, these decals rely mostly on photos with minimal words. And they use languages commonly understood throughout greater Portland – English, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Simplified Chinese.
When Metro’s community partners began rolling out the regional decal project last year, they used census data to prioritize communities with the greatest need and highest service barriers first.
Shared economic prosperity
“It’s an opportunity for taking on bigger projects and proves that a smaller company can do a good job,” says Dupree Carter, who owns and operates Junk It Junk Removal with his wife Michelle Carter.
Contracting with their junk removal business delivers on core values found in Metro’s 2030 Regional Waste Plan. Now three years into a ten-year vision to make the garbage and recycling system work better for everyone, the plan aims to increase access to economic opportunities for historically marginalized people, communities and businesses – like Junk It.
Carter founded it over 11 years ago with the intention of supporting his family and kids after he served time in prison. “I felt like I was being boxed out and stuck in minimum wage jobs,” Carter says about trying to make a living after incarceration.
Since then, he has built a successful company. And he pays it forward when he can. Carter says that he has helped others like himself by employing them, developing their work skills and even mentoring some as they started their own businesses. Today, Junk It Junk Removal is an extremely helpful community partner, responsible for posting more than half of the new regional decals.