PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – In the midst of a lawsuit with a company that recycles hard-to-recycle items, Washington County has decided to offer a comparable service itself.
Recycle+ is set to launch July 1 and aims to provide recycling services for many of the products collected by the company called Ridwell. The announcement of the new services comes after ongoing disagreements between the county and Ridwell.
In late 2021, Washington County asked Ridwell to stop operating in unincorporated parts of the county. The company complied, but then sued Washington County for violating state law, saying the county was preventing recycling and reuse of products to the maximum extent feasible before disposal.
The day before the lawsuit, the Washington County Board of Commissioners declared the company could continue operating, but only until the county developed its own recycling program for items it currently does not recycle.
“We’ve received a lot of community feedback about the desire to recycle more materials than what has been included in the bins,” Thomas Egleston, solid waste and recycling division manager for Washington County, said.
At the same time, Egleston said the county’s trash haulers were eager to fulfill that desire. He said haulers weren’t offering the service previously because the pieces weren’t aligned to do so. Egleston said some recycling markets overseas collapsed several years ago, but many are now opening in North America. Haulers can now collect certain items for recycling and they have places to ship them to for processing.
Ridwell said it hasn’t received any formal notice to cease its operations in unincorporated Washington County, but is under the impression it will not be able to operate in those areas once the Recycle+ program begins. July 1.
Cody Weaver, vice president of public affairs for Ridwell, said the company has concerns about the new recycling program.
“They have not justified why there’s a good public policy reason to expand the monopoly rather than allowing the haulers to compete with us and anybody else that wants to provide this additional optional service,” Weaver said.
He said county commissioners have not addressed the company’s concerns about the new program.
Ridwell says Recycle+ could potentially be worse for the environment, provide less services for the residents of unincorporated Washington County, and could cost more money for customers.
Weaver argues it’s worse for the environment because it offers fewer opportunities to reuse materials, something Ridwell prioritizes. He also said Recycle+ won’t accept as many items. For example, Ridwell accepts styrofoam and small electronics. Recycle+ does not advertise that it can accept these items.
Recycle+ also won’t initially be available to all the people Ridwell currently services. When it launches in July, it will only serve urban unincorporated areas of Washington County, not rural areas. It will also not serve multi-family households. Ridwell currently provides services to both rural areas and multi-family households.
Washington County said Recycle+ will serve multi-family households by July 2023. It did not provide information on if or when it will ever be offered to residents in rural Washington County. It said it received little response from rural community members in a survey conducted in late 2021 about recycling.
Washington County is the solid waste authority of unincorporated Washington County.
The large cities in the county have their own waste management programs and have agreements to allow Ridwell to operate.
KOIN 6 News asked Washington County if preventing Ridwell from operating in unincorporated areas was a form of monopolizing the market.
Egleston said it operates as a franchise system, similar to how utility companies operate.
“If you’re in PGE service area, for example, you can’t choose Pacific Power to power your home. So, it’s a similar model,” he said.
This allows the county to manage the system on a community basis instead of by individual customers, Egleston said, which helps regulate the cost. He said current rules state that if the franchise waste management program collects certain items, then those items cannot be collected by other parties.
He said some Ridwell may be allowed to continue collecting some materials the county won’t be accepting, if the company chooses to do that.
The Recycle+ program will cost a base fee of $2.50 per month plus a curbside pickup fee for each requested pickup. In total, the price per pickup will range between $11.75-$15.52.
For comparison, Ridwell prices range between $12-16 each month and that covers pickups every other week. Weaver argues Recycle+ is more expensive because if a person wants their recycling taken away more than once a month, it will cost them significantly more money.
However, the 20-gallon purple bin Recycle+ plans to provide customers is much larger than the bin Ridwell provides, which holds nearly 12 gallons.
Ridwell said it’s still pursuing its lawsuit against Washington County and that it has even more legal concerns about the new Recycle+ program and whether it’s allowed under state law. Weaver said it’s too soon to know if they’ll pursue additional litigation.
For now, Egleston said the county is excited to incorporate the new service into its system and hopes customers will take advantage of it when it launches July 1. He said the best way for people to sign up for the service is to contact their garbage provider.
More details about the Recycle+ program, including what types of items it accepts, are available on Washington County’s website.