Filth and frustration: Years of complaints against WestRock Recycling

Special Reports

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some neighbors of a Southeast Portland recycling center are desperate for some peace and quiet after years of dealing with its unregulated operation.

City records show neighbors have been complaining for years about WestRock Recycling off SE Foster Road and 101st.

Neighbors have been complaining about WestRock Recycling for years. (Courtesy photo)

“They showed up in 1993 and it was contained to just inside the building then,” said Vance Dutton, who has lived across the street since 1984.

Dutton and neighbors, including Tuesday Dorr, have watched as WestRock Recycling expanded outside. 

“The beeping and pounding and rattling of our windows constantly, it makes you want to rip your hair out. It’s not fun to live around here,” Dorr said.

Photos from neighbors show cardboard spilling onto the sidewalk and plastic strewn across the street. Video from neighbors’ cell phones captures the sound of machinery they hear during the day and at night.

“More noise, more rats, more of everything,” Dutton said.

There have also been fires, including one in December that burned large bales of plastic, creating toxic smoke according to the Portland Fire Bureau.

Neighbors have been complaining about WestRock Recycling for years. (Courtesy photo)

Neighbors have been hoping Metro, the government agency that has jurisdiction over recycling in the Portland area, would step in. 

“I would definitely be frustrated from what I’ve seen. There’s definitely negative neighborhood impacts from that facility,” Dan Blue with Metro said. “No one from WestRock would deny that. They understand their unique challenges with this particular facility.”

But Metro is powerless. Historically, Oregon and Metro haven’t had any rules for recycling facilities like this one on land zoned for industrial use.

Neighbors have been complaining about WestRock Recycling for years. Portland Fire and Rescue said a fire there burned plastic, creating toxic fumes. (Courtesy photo) 

The plant’s general manager, Wayne Jackson, told KOIN 6 News to call WestRock’s corporate communications director in Atlanta, but after seven attempts of trying to reach someone in company management, no one agreed to an interview.

For the last two and half years, Blue and Metro have been developing new rules to regulate recycling facilities by the beginning of 2019. WestRock is in line to get a license for the facility.

“I think they are willing partners to make changes and the good news is if they don’t make those changes, effective January 1, we’ll have an enforcement tool to make them make changes,” Blue said.

Dutton said he’s “all for it” if the permit limits what WestRock can do in his neighborhood.

Five other facilities in the metro area will be getting permits. Metro has seen the similar problems at the other facilities but said WestRock is the only one so close to a neighborhood.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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