A variety of community-based organizations from throughout greater Portland gathered to discuss their vision for the 2030 Regional Waste Plan.
Center for Diversity & the Environment
Centro Cultural de Washington County
Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization
North by Northeast Community Health Center
The Rosewood Initiative
Trash for Peace
This story is available in Spanish and Russian.
Warm smiles of recognition flashed across faces. People embraced. It could have been a family reunion.
Instead, it was a meeting to talk about trash.
A few weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday morning, about 160 people from around greater Portland streamed steadily into a meeting hall at the Oregon Zoo. They shared some breakfast together and then settled around tables, each with a designated note taker ready to record their comments on large pads of paper on easels.
Then the volume in the room rose, as passionate conversations erupted around the room.
It was all to help shape the 2030 Regional Waste Plan – the roadmap that will guide efforts to reduce garbage and increase recycling in greater Portland in the coming decade.
Sixteen-year-old Ahlam Osman came to the event through Momentum Alliance, a youth-led nonprofit focused on creating future leaders. Momentum Alliance was one of eight community organizations that collectively brought dozens of community members into this conversation with Metro.
She recalled that her family’s compost bin sat empty in their garage for years because it didn’t come with instructions. “It is not common for communities of color to get the education they need,” said Osman, who was born in the U.S. to parents who arrived here as refugees from Somalia.
It was Osman who, after growing into something of a self-described environmental justice activist, explained to her parents how to use it and the impact of food waste in garbage.
Small groups discuss topics related to what gets tossed – and how
Participants at May’s event selected one of four areas – information and education; quality services; garbage and recycling operations; or jobs, training and business opportunities – that interested them the most. Then they gathered around tables to review and discuss potential actions to help meet goals in that area. Russian and Spanish speakers participated with the assistance of interpreters and bilingual discussion leaders.
“We talked about offering low-income workers first opportunity at job postings,” said David Grandfield, with the Center for Diversity and the Environment. He sat at a table looking at employment in garbage and recycling. His group questioned the definition of a “living wage,” which, Grandfield said, can mean different things to different people. They considered factors including the number of family members someone supports.
Grandfield said the folks at his table also discussed how to make the work force more diverse. And they suggested offering resume-building opportunities for non-English speakers and assistance to people with criminal records who often have a hard time reentering the workforce.
Participants in other groups spoke of the need for garbage and recycling information to use pictures and multiple languages. They talked about how people living in apartment buildings could get better garbage service and recycle more. Many said they believe that getting information from educators and organizations from within their own communities is key to raising awareness about the impact of garbage and increasing recycling in the future.
Lupe Mosqueda, also with Momentum Alliance, talked about some in the Latino community not being able to receive public services or assistance because of fear of the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. “A lot of folks need assistance but already are scared of government collecting information,” she said.
This conversation started last summer
The zoo gathering last month was the culmination of a larger effort designed to make sure that, as policy makers make decisions about the future of garbage and recycling, they hear the voices of historically underrepresented and marginalized communities.
“The process was a little long,” said Pat Daniels, executive director at Constructing Hope, a nonprofit that helps people get started working in the construction trades. “But it shows a commitment to diversity. I think it’s going to make a difference.”
And for most participants, this opportunity to share opinions with a government was new. Last summer and fall, they toured waste facilities together, took online surveys, and participated in a series of conversations where they shared candid opinions with local elected officials about their experiences with the garbage and recycling system.
Yoana Molina has been participating through The Rosewood Initiative. As she reflected on all they’d done together over the last year, she recalled being stunned at the tour of a local waste facility last summer. “The quantity of garbage was eye-opening!” she said. Greater Portland generates more than 2 million tons of garbage, food scraps, yard trimmings, recycling, and household hazardous waste every year.
“I have to take responsibility, too,” Molina said. “But I can make better decisions now.”
Daniels, a homeowner who grew up in a home-owning family, says the process opened her eyes to the difficulties that people living in apartments face, such as lack of bin space. “I learned a lot about disparity in recycling,” she said. “I didn’t know I was privileged as a home owner.”
“People want to do the right thing,” said Karen Blauer, a Metro senior public affairs specialist who helped organize the series of community events. “They have an interest and a real desire to protect the environment and conserve resources.”
Transforming common goals into a draft plan
As conversations tapered, scribes gathered their tables’ notes, which will be transcribed – and in some cases translated. Metro staff will take that input, together with input from technical work groups, and develop a draft of the 2030 Regional Waste Plan over the summer. In the fall, the public will have a chance to provide final comments on the draft before it goes to Metro Council for adoption.
“I got clarity on just how difficult it is to change a system as large as the one we’ve been talking about,” said Pablo Barreyro, with Environmental Professionals of Color. Barreyro believes that the solutions don’t need to be one-size-fits-all. People from diverse communities have different needs, he said, and often people from within those communities can be the source of “nimble,” small-scale solutions.
“I feel very empowered,” said Konstantin Arnautov, a Russian-speaking elder originally from Moldova. Arnautov attended the May conversation with his wife. “We feel like we are making a difference. The more people participating, the more wisdom.”