The changes in the garbage and recycling services for residential customer continue to prompt spirited emails flowing into my inbox.
Last week, I visited Far West Fibers Inc., the facility where all of Portland’s recycling - including the contents of residential “blue bins” - goes for sorting. Since the implementation of curbside composting and every-other-week garbage pickup, Far West Fibers' east side location has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of trash and diapers contaminating residential recycling bins. This mixing is detrimental to Far West Fibers’ operations. All the contents of our blue bins race across a conveyor belt and individuals manually sort out non-recyclables. I was fascinated by how quickly the belt and their hands moved. It reminded me of the famous I Love Lucy Chocolate Factory episode.... except the amazingly skilled workers are picking out trash and dirty diapers, not candy.
I enjoyed the factory tour very much, and learned a great deal about recycling business operations. Seeing the process in action also helps me better understand and remember the rules of recycling. For example, I learned that the lids of plastic milk jugs can be recycled as long as they are screwed onto the rinsed-out jug. It is not necessary to remove labels from plastic, glass bottles, or metal cans. Rigid plastic frozen food containers are OK, but paper packaging that has been in the freezer goes in the garbage. It was also illustrative to see how plastic bags really do jam the machines, forcing them to stop everything and manually un-jam them every few hours.
Below is a picture of my very fashion-forward assistant, Milena, with President and CEO Keith Ristau, who was so kind to invite and take us on the tour.
Since curbside compost and every-other-week garbage pickup began last October, I have received both positive and negative feedback from Portlanders. I appreciate and consider all comments, and I am open to reconsidering or adjusting the program to make it work better for everybody. I have heard stories about neighbors offering space in half-full garbage bins when extra room is needed. I believe creative, neighborly solutions like these are the heart of what Portland is about.