Jim Hoover says he can boost the county's recycling rates. His critics say he's jeopardizing the garbage business in ways that could touch off a first round of trash wars
Jim Hoover stood in the parking lot of a Washington County apartment complex explaining the work he and his employees do six days a week.
It seems a little odd. It involves climbing into and out of dumpsters.
The Eugene businessman prefers to describe it as managing the waste stream at multifamily housing complexes.
His business, Reynolds Maintenance, contracts with about four dozen apartment complexes in western Washington County.
His clients think he's a saint.
'We love him,' said Avin Marr, manager of the 120-unit Garden Brook Apartments in Beaverton.
A few miles to the west, however, Hoover isn't quite so popular. The Hillsboro City Council just told him he's not welcome in their town. Washington County Commissioners have been asked to run him out of the entire county.
It's the latest round of blows between Hoover's 15-year-old company and the garbage haulers' industry.
The haulers successfully banned Hoover's business from Salem in 2003 and Tigard a year later.
Hoover is permitted to operate in Springfield, Albany and Corvallis - but only after fierce negotiations between the cities and the haulers.
Representatives for the hauling industry say Hoover's practice of getting into the garbage containers to separate waste is unsafe, and that it is increasing the liability risk and insurance costs of the local haulers.
'Third World countries allow people into garbage containers and landfills. That isn't how we do things here,' said Dave White, spokesman for the Oregon Refuse and Recycling Association, which has spearheaded the lobby efforts on behalf of the garbage haulers.
Hoover and some of his clients say there's another reason the haulers don't like him: he cuts into their profits.
As one of his employees pulled a white bag of garbage from a recycling bin at a Beaverton apartment complex, Hoover explained how his business works, a demonstration that was equal parts sales pitch and plea for help.
'What we're doing is what everyone should be doing,' he said. 'But they don't.'
Describing one of the main selling points of his business, Hoover said his six-man crew separates the recyclables from the rest of the garbage and cleans out garbage that is thrown into the recycling bins.
As Hoover watched, his employee pulled several pizza boxes from the recycling bin, their greasy remains disqualifying the cardboard for recycling.
The employee then got out of the recycling bin and put the pizza boxes and the white garbage bag he had removed from it in its proper spot - a container just a few feet across the parking lot. Earlier, he had fished out plastic bottles from that container and placed them in the nearby recycling bin.
'If we come in and pull it out daily, we lower the volume of garbage going to the landfill, and how much garbage is needed to be picked up (by the haulers),' Hoover said.
In addition, Hoover's employees will remove bulky items such as mattresses and furniture that are sometimes thrown away by the tenants. They either donate them to Goodwill Industries or recycle them on their own.
Though a favorite marketing claim of Hoover's, the recycling is just one part of what he does.
He also promises his customers a certain percentage of savings on their monthly garbage bill.
Most complexes, he said, are 'over-garbaged' (Hoover's word) meaning that they get more in service from the garbage haulers than they need.
When Hoover gets involved, he takes on the responsibility for paying and managing the apartment complex's garbage bill.
He then monitors how much garbage is being generated and determines what level of service from the haulers is appropriate.
Usually, 'I can cut their garbage bill down by a third,' Hoover said.
He might, for instance, find that a complex doesn't fill two 6-yard garbage containers by the time the hauler comes by to dump them - particularly once the recyclables are removed. Yet, the complex is paying $2,000 a month to rent the large containers.
Simply by replacing them with a pair of 4-yard containers, Hoover can trim about $500 off the monthly garbage bill.
(Because apartment complexes are required to recycle by state law, recycling bins are provided free of charge).
Hoover can also further reduce garbage bills by making sure no garbage is left alongside the containers or on top of the lids - eliminating extra service fees the haulers charge their customers.
To make his profit and stay in business, Hoover pockets a share of the savings he creates, usually 10 to 15 percent of the original garbage bill.
Marr, of Garden Brook Apartments, is so enthusiastic about Hoover's service, she eagerly listed off the benefits of the arrangement beyond the increased recycling at the complex.
The transients no longer stop by to rustle through the overflowing garbage bins.
The neat look of the garbage areas has increased the curb appeal to potential renters.
She saves on labor costs because her own employees are no longer responsible for the garbage areas.
And, perhaps best of all, Hoover has taken away the stress of handling the garbage bill.
In the past, she explained, her hauler would complain that items were left outside the dumpster or that containers were over-filled.
'I use to run at Christmas time to give them food so that they would be nice to us,' she said.
Hoover's expansion into Washington County began about five years ago, after he separated from his original business partner who helped him launch the company in Lane County in 1981,
Of the 838 apartment complexes in the county, Hoover has contracts at about 59 spread throughout Beaverton, Aloha and Hillsboro. His service affects five of the 15 garbage haulers in the county who have franchise agreements with the county - including the largest, Waste Management Inc.
Charles Marshall, executive director of the Washington County Haulers Association, dismisses the idea that Reynolds Maintenance is doing any good by separating recyclables from the waste that goes to the landfill.
'We've studied this, we've looked at it and we find no difference in the amount of recycling,' because of Hoover, Marshall said.
Indeed, Robert Weeks, an analyst for the county involved in the rate-setting for the garbage industry, said he has no reason to believe Hoover is increasing recycling in Washington County.
'He doesn't have enough material and enough customers,' he said.
Hoover said he had no way to quantify the amount of recycling he does because the haulers are the ones who dispose of the material. But he takes offense to the notion that he isn't doing any good.
'I'm not here to say that my small little company is going to significantly raise the volume of recycling,' he said. 'But it's a no-brainer, if those things are removed (from the trash containers) … they can keep saying I don't recycle, and that's what gets my goat. It really does. It's like, come on, at least play fair.'
Hoover and his customers are convinced that Reynolds Maintenance is being targeted by the haulers because the company is able to create such savings on the garbage bills that it could potentially reduce the gross earnings of the haulers - businesses that are protected from competition by the franchise agreements with the county.
'He's taking a notch in a business that doesn't like to take notches,' said Jeff Smith, management supervisor of the Kings Court apartment complex in Beaverton.
Marshall, however, also dismissed the idea that Hoover is doing any real damage to the haulers' financial situation.
Under the county franchise agreements, haulers are guaranteed reimbursement for expenses and are permitted to make a 6 percent to 12 percent profit margin on those expenses through the garbage rates the county sets.
'We're going to get our money one way or another,' Marshall said. 'The main objection by the haulers is that this is just an unsafe practice. There are hyperdermic needles, diapers, all kinds of ugly stuff and this is exposing us to a liability.'
However, in a meeting between Hoover, Marshall and White, mediated by Washington County staff on May 24, Marshall seemed to indicate that the haulers were concerned about money.
During the meeting, which was recorded, Marshall said he felt Hoover was violating the franchise agreement by shifting materials, including recyclables, among containers at various apartment complexes.
'It's collecting and transporting,' he said. 'We have a franchise system to do that. Our profits are managed in that context.'
At the same meeting, according to the recording, Hoover offered to put the haulers and the county on his own insurance policy. He also offered to buy his own garbage containers to replace the haulers' containers, as he has done in Corvallis.
In response, White of the Oregon Refuse and Recycling Association, said no.
'Our liability is not resolved by being insured, we're not interested in that,' he said. 'It's bad public policy to have people get into containers. He should stay out of our containers. That's our bottom line.'
Gerry McReynolds, chairman of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee and a certified public accountant in Tigard, said he's heard two years of the same debate, and that he is firmly on the side of the haulers.
'It's strictly because it's hazardous,' McReynolds said. '(Hoover is) getting inside the containers and containers are not always safe places to be.'
Hoover said he is aware of the dangers. He said he trains his six employees in hazard awareness and safe work rules. Safety meetings are held each week and in its 15 years of operation, the company has been accident-free.
Each employee is provided protective equipment including heavy-duty leather or impermeable gloves, full-steel shank NFPA approved firefighter boots, heavy denim insulated work jackets and eye protection.
One OSHA complaint was filed against Hoover, in November of last year. An OSHA investigator inspected his workplace in December and could not substantiate the complaint.
Hoover has had one worker's comp claim resulting from a motor vehicle accident caused by the driver of another vehicle. His classification under the Workers' Compensation system is as a medium risk.
The haulers' submitted a request to the county commissioners last month to rewrite language in the county code with regard to solid waste, in the hope that they could prohibit Hoover from entering garbage containers and from transporting waste between containers.
The haulers have made similar requests of the cities of Beaverton, Hillsboro and Gresham.
Two weeks ago, the Hillsboro City Council complied and passed an ordinance making it illegal for Hoover or anyone else to remove recyclables from garbage containers without the permission of the garbage haulers.
The ordinance also prohibits Hoover and others from entering solid waste containers.
No public hearings on the ordinance change were held. Hoover said he was not informed that the item was on the city council agenda.
Officials in the city of Gresham will consider the question July 17. Their staff's recommendation will be to follow Hillsboro's lead.
In the meantime, officials in the City of Beaverton and the Washington County commissioners are still considering their options.