Dressed in neon yellow safety vests and bright red hardhats, community members toured the Metro South household hazardous waste facility. Batteries, paint, cleaners, gasoline and oils – all are processed there, keeping toxic chemicals out of our trash and waterways.
“We take … anything in your house that you can’t put in the trash or can’t throw away or can’t pour down the drain,” said Joe Tharp, the household hazardous waste program supervisor at Metro South.
The people on tour are part of a community advisory group working with Metro’s garbage and recycling system facilities plan. Facilities such as transfer stations or household hazardous waste drop-off sites play a necessary role in managing the things people throw away, providing temporary holding spaces and safe disposal practices.
The system facilities plan is working to assess the region’s garbage and recycling facilities as well as reuse and repair centers, identify what could work better, and present plans for investment in new facilities or services.
The group has advised Metro project staff on the plan for almost a year. The tour offered behind-the-scenes access to the facilities that manage waste and the difficulties faced as the region grows.
“We are the busiest household hazardous waste facility in the nation,” Tharp said. The second busiest facility? The Metro Central household hazardous waste facility in Northwest Portland.
The tour moved past the stacks of 55-gallon drums filled with corrosive and flammable materials to the nearby Metro South transfer station. A plaque on the wall commemorates the opening of the site in 1983, 40 years ago.
Metro South needs to be modernized, but a modern facility would not easily fit on the constrained site footprint. Metro South also sits on a flood plain. Advisory group members saw aerial photos of the facility when it flooded in February 1996.
The people on the tour watched the tipping floor as both commercial and personal vehicles dropped their loads. There isn’t enough room on site to separate what can be reused from what is trash. Nearly everything is dumped into a pit where heavy duty machinery scoops waste into a compactor to be crushed and shipped to a landfill in Arlington, OR.
The group also toured facilities that support repair and reuse organizations. In Tualatin, they visited Community Warehouse, a furniture bank that stores home goods like furniture, dishware and small appliances and redistributes them to people in need.
Shaynna Hobson, program director of Community Warehouse said the organization gave out over 50,000 items last year. Hobson said her biggest need is to get enough furniture to keep up with demand.
Community advisory group member Irene Perezchica reflected on people dumping at Metro South. She saw several items that could be reused if people had the time and space to sort them.
“People are like ‘I don’t care I just want to throw everything out’ and so that’s what happens,” Perezchica said.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had a space over at the transfer station to donate stuff and it was kept somewhere where it would remain dry,” Hobson said.
Both Community Warehouse and Free Geek, the last stop on the tour, said they needed more space to operate. More space would allow them to receive, repair and redistribute more things, giving useful items a “second life” in a new person’s home.
The group met Durran Champie, the receiving and recycling manager at Free Geek, in front of a temporary drop-off area in the parking lot. As Champie explained Free Geek’s operations, people stood in line to get rid of electronics they no longer needed.
“We’re part of the Oregon E-Cycles program. Out of that fund we collect printers, monitors, tv sets, etc,” Champie said.
In Oregon, it is illegal to dispose of computers, monitors, and television sets. The e-cycles program provides free electronic waste recycling options for households. The program is funded by electronics manufacturers.
Champie took the group inside the facility where they saw many large crates full of electronics. Many items were going to be packaged and sent to recyclers to process them for their precious metal components.
After the tour, the community advisory group members spoke with Metro staff. They talked about facility challenges and ways to improve the garbage and recycling system. Advisory member Bunsereyrithy Kong spoke about ways to bring more community members into facilities.
“It could be good to have community centers where people can go and learn about waste and recycling,” Kong said. “Also, if they have any centers where all the items are still [useful] they can go and get those items for reuse and for repair.”