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Sorting trash for 30 years in Oregon City


Metro South, the regional garbage transfer facility in Oregon City, has gone through many modifications during its 30-year history, reflecting a shift in regional values toward sustainable practices that minimize trash and maximize recovery.

When it opened in 1983, the Clackamas Transfer and Recycling Center (as it originally was known) was the only publicly owned transfer station serving the region. It consisted of a single building on an 11-acre site where commercial garbage haulers brought trash from homes and businesses. The garbage was unloaded and sent by truck to the St. Johns Landfill in North Portland for disposal.

First envisioned as an adjunct to a mass burn facility that never was built, Metro South’s footprint, layout and design did not take into account recovering, separating and preparing recyclable materials.

Following closure of the St. Johns Landfill in 1990, workers at Metro South — in concert with an emerging network of regional and local garbage transfer stations — began limited recycling, while the majority of materials received were transferred for disposal at distant sites.

Operations continued to evolve with public demand for recycling, household hazardous waste collection and paint recycling (which since has been relocated to a facility on Swan Island).

Metro South now is the most heavily used facility in the region for households and small businesses to bring their “self-haul” materials — garbage, construction debris, recyclable items and others.

In the past three decades, it has taken in more than 9 million tons of waste at its Oregon City location, and consistently reaches a 15 percent annual average recovery rate for recyclable or reusable dry waste. In 2012 alone, more than 212,000 customers deposited nearly 240,000 tons of solid waste, recyclable materials and organics.

Commercial haulers, small business owners and residents give the station and its employees very high satisfaction ratings. Oak Grove resident Ben Langford is one of those people.

Langford is a retired paper maker and contractor who has taken loads to Metro South since it opened. On a recent day, he arrived at the station hauling old wood trim, some sheet rock and a little metal flashing from a neighbor’s home remodel project.

“I came here instead of spending $400 on a drop box and because it’s next to Home Depot and convenient for me,” he said. “I’ll empty the trailer of trash and go fill it up with new stuff. I’ve never had any problems here and never had to wait long.”

The transfer station’s work isn’t limited to accepting and recycling trash. For the past 25 years, a 50-cent surcharge collected on each ton of garbage disposed at Metro South has been invested in community improvement projects in the facility’s host city. A committee of local elected officials and residents from Oregon City reviews applications and awards grants to help fund projects that benefit areas directly affected by Metro South.

More than $4 million has been invested in 110 projects in the past decade, ranging from a pathway, restroom and concession area at Wesley Lynn Park to the year-round Oregon City Farmer’s Market and several downtown revitalization and beautification projects.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: METRO - In order to recycle as much material as possible, workers sift through trash at Metro South, the regional garbage transfer facility in Oregon City currently celebrating its 30th anniversary and undergoing a two-year review of its services.“For 30 years, Metro South has been a dependable resource — valued by the local community and customers from across the region,” said Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, whose district includes Oregon City and who serves on the grant committee that distributes the transfer-fee funding. “We’re proud that it consistently earns high customer satisfaction rates for affordability, efficiency and accessibility.”

But Metro South is a constrained facility with limited room to grow, making it increasingly difficult for the facility to continue to provide the services it offers.

Regional governmental officials have undertaken a two-year evaluation of Metro South’s services, considering projections for future demand for different types of waste management services, the availability (or lack thereof) of similar services at nearby locations, and recommendations for enhancing the sustainability and efficiency of Metro South’s operations.

Metro’s Solid Waste Roadmap project will take a comprehensive look at the future of Metro South Station, including the needs of the facility and its customers. Metro is reaching out and engaging all types of customers of Metro South in the assessment and will provide options for the Metro Council to consider in late 2013 to guide the future operations of the facility.