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Changes in recycling hit local firm hard

Portland Recycling Center saw business dip when recycling offerings grew
by: Vern Uyetake, 
Ray Petermeyer’s Portland Recycling Center near Foothills Park in Lake Oswego continues to operate even though the business took a hit when curbside recycling began being offered in the city.

As a driver's assistant in the third armored division the winter of 1944, Ray Petermeyer absorbed the events of the Battle of the Bulge while sitting shotgun in a bullet-proof truck.

But he returned with an invigorated sense of dedication to last him for life.

Responding to a job offer in the newspaper, Petermeyer started as a weighmaster in Seattle in 1947. He continued working in the administrative side of the recycling business for the next 50 years, watching generations of technologies expand and modify the recycling industry.

Eventually, he fashioned his own company, Portland Recycling Center.

So after a lifetime of recycling, he's resolved not to lose his center in Lake Oswego, a 17-year-old location that runs parallel to the Willamette River and adjacent to the newly built Foothills Park.

But that is its likely future, at 341 Foothills Drive, due to last year's launching of a curbside recycling project by the city of Lake Oswego and Allied Waste Services.

'I lost 50 percent of our supply when Lake Oswego went to curbside recycling,' said Petermeyer.

That's because Allied Waste and the city council found recycling increased by 25 percent if they accepted intermingled recyclable products in the city's 60-gallon bins, rather than the way that residents are required to separate paper, plastics and glass in Portland and other areas.

The service does not accept glass in the mixed bin, but will pick it up separately for an additional fee.

But Rossman Services won't accept electronics or plastic planting pots.

Thus, Petermeyer has resorted to filling these niches as his mainstay for income. With the cost ranging from $10 to $50, he'll recycle most appliances, loading them in his trailer, more than12,000 pounds in recent months, and driving to a chemical waste and electronics recycling corporation in Seattle.

He takes the nursery pots to Salem, where they are sold for 3.5 cents per pound to Agri-Plas. Petermeyer delivers 600 pounds every month, which still doesn't compensate for the price for gas.

A quick look around the recycling center tells a sad story.

A printer, partially hidden by a mound of shrub grass, looks like it is new. Its plastic cover gleams after a light rainfall.

The six-ton recycling compressors are less than half full these days. And an employee, Paul Mortenson, throws a handful of recyclables into one unit with a discordant echo.

Petermeyer's location is no longer self-sustaining and the city is eyeing the valuable land, where according to Petermeyer, it hopes to eventually expand commercialization along the Willamette River and possibly build a marina for boaters to come ashore for shopping and a quick bite.

And though he's recycled at a time when 'recycling' meant loads were shipped to landfills, he says times really haven't changed much.

'In 10 years they'll have to have everybody out of here,' he said, 'and eventually they'll get it. But in the meantime we'll be here.'

Portland Recycling Center is located at 341 Foothills Road in Lake Oswego. For information, call 503-228-5375.