After 20 years, hazardous waste program has diverted 150,000 pounds of materials for reuse
BRUCE FORSTER / METRO FILE PHOTO
Metro's Pass It On reuse program has diverted more than 150,000 pounds of materials from the waste stream.
The hazardous waste facility at Metro South transfer station celebrated two decades and a ton of stories in paint and jars this week. Most of the materials that come through the doors are mundane – old paint cans, car batteries, fluorescent lights and propane tanks – but there's the occasional jar with a human brain or pickled pet.
"When it comes to odd things, usually, you'll get a snake or some other critter in a bottle," said Denise Hays, supervisor of Metro South, at 2001 Washington Street in Oregon City.
A dozen permanent staffers and a handful of interns and temporary employees comb through what comes in and decide what gets reused, recycled, destroyed or discarded. Oxidizers and acids might be incinerated, treated or sent to a special landfill for hazardous materials, whereas half-empty containers of window cleaner, automobile oil and house paint might receive a new lease on life. And that's what makes the Metro facility such a valuable community asset, agency officials and non-profit partners say.
Habitat for Humanity, which operates ReStore home-improvement centers in Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties, sells household cleaners, stains, windows, lumber and other Metro-salvaged materials below market value.
"The community benefit is that people who can't afford to buy retail still have access to these products, and the environmental benefit is that we keep things out of the landfill," said Cindy Correll, ReStore marketing manager for the Portland-Vancouver area.
Last year, Metro's hazardous waste facilities and roundups collected more almost 4.5 million pounds of materials, according to agency officials. Metro's Pass It On reuse program diverted more than 150,000 pounds of the materials from disposal and saved taxpayers an estimated $139,000.
A 2009 Oregon law spurred the National Paint and Coatings Association to form PaintCare Inc., a program aimed at diverting leftover architectural paint from landfills. Local governments are not required to participate in the industry-funded paint-collection program, even though paint is one of the highest-volume household hazardous waste materials, according to an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fact sheet.
Metro has a contract with PaintCare to process and recycle the architectural coatings the agency receives. The South Station hazardous waste facility will take as much as 35 gallons of paint per person, per day.
Metro sells the recycled paint at its Swan Island paint store in Portland, as well as at Miller Paint Co. branches throughout the metropolitan area. The agency also donates paint to nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and Gleaners of Clackamas County Inc.
Habitat receives more than 4,300 gallons of paint annually through the Pass It On program, Correll said. Oregon City-based Gleaners stocks its shelves with Metro paint, oil and fertilizer and makes the materials available for free to its more than 2,000 elderly, disabled, homeless and low-income members throughout Clackamas County.
"We get it one day, and by a week or so it's gone," said Gleaners President Bunne Mooney. "Once people find that Metro's been here, it's like a stampede."
Demand has changed dramatically during the past 20 years. Hays said Metro staffers initially conducted cold calls and advertised in newspapers to find new homes for old materials. Now, Metro has a deep network of recipients.
"If we know of teachers with a project, we will save quarts of paint for their students to create murals and things like that," Hays added.
Students at Gregory Heights Middle School in North Portland used Metro-donated paint to create a mural on their main hall's walls that tells the story the Willamette River, from Willamette Falls to the Columbia River confluence. As part of the project, students toured the river by boat and recorded their impressions.
Still, when it comes to education, Metro must do more to improve community awareness about what materials could be reused instead of discarded, underscored ReStore marketing manager Correll.
"I wish Metro had a more formal, organized method for taking reusable materials," explained Correll, a master recycler. "People take things there to dispose of them, not because they think they are reusable."