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Foiling the garbage glut in Oregon.

Foiling the garbage blut in Oregon

Waste disposal sites are like maximum-security prisons and heavy-metal bands: hardly anyone wants one for a neighbor. Yet garbage must be disposed of. What to do with it has become one of the more troubling topics of the 1980s.

Each year, Los Angeles County products more than 14 million tons of solid waste. Within 10 years, all its existing landfills will reach capacity. Portland is debating whether to ship waste 150 miles east.

Not too long ago, mass incineration facilities were looked on as the solution. But fears of smokestack-borne toxics cancelled plans for the LANCER project in Los Angeles and the SANDER project in San Diego.

And so something has happened. Recycling was a 1970s cause that in the 1980s had the out-of-fashion air of a macrame wall hanging. Now it's a state-of-the-art waste management technique. Says Peter Grogan, a waste management consultant in Denver, "We're in a real transitional shift, comparable to the energy crisis of the 1970s. Major municipalities are having to incorporate recycling into their solid-waste plans."

With three quarters of a million residents, San Jose offers curbside recycling to 172,000 homes. Not far away, the Marin Recycling Center in San Rafael employs methods high-tech (an indoor dump as big as three football fields, equipped with machines to process 11 varieties of recyclables) and low-tech (a barnyard of pigs, chickens, lambs, and horses that eat waste food). The combination recycled 43 million pounds of waste last year.

California's Bottle and Can Recycling Act of last year mandates some statewide recycling. But Oregon's Opportunity to Recycle Act may be the most ambitious statewide approach of all. It divides the state into "wastesheds." Within them, each disposal site must offer recycling facilities, and every city with 4,000 or more residents must offer curbside recycling at least once a month.

The definition of "recyclable" depends on the existence of nearby markets for the material and the cost of disposal. In Portland, 10 categories of materials, from motor oil to yard debris, are deemed worth recycling. In sparsely settled eastern Oregon, the list is shorter. Flexibility is needed, as the program depends on private garbage haulers: the recycled materials' value plus the garbage rates paid by customers must exceed the hauler's costs.

One program star is the Portland suburb of West Linn. The 13,000-person city has a household participation rate of 60 percent. Lane County, home to Eugene, recovers 20 percent of its waste stream (national average is 8 percent). There's an active program of recycling education in the schools. Says Ken Sandusky, Lane County recycling coordinator, "We even have bumper stickers on county vehicles that say, 'Recycling: So Simple It Works.'"

Three factors determine the public's enthusiasm for recycling, believes Elaine Glendening of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality. "First, you need once-a-week service, with recyclables picked up on the same day as the garbage. Second, it helps to provide separate containers. Third, you need education and promotion, especially in the schools."

Oregon's program has suffered some hitches. Not every hauler has willingly participated; in some places, funds for promotion have been lacking. Nor is recycling a cure-all. It doesn't deal with toxic wastes. Nor with sewage. But as the cost of other disposal options rises, Oregon's experience does seem to show recycling can be more than a matter of good intentions. It can be good economics as well.

Photo: Bottles get a bashing at Lane County recycling center. Bluebird troop watches, part of recycling education program
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sunset's 90th Anniversary Special Report; waste disposal sites
Date:May 1, 1988
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