Southeast's 'Ridwell' recycles things you thought you couldn't
Inner Southeast Portland neighbors frequently wonder what they can do with things that are difficult to recycle. For the diligent, it seems to be a never-ending quest.
Used batteries, light bulbs, combination paper-plastic shipping envelopes, plastic bread and cereal wrappers, newspaper bags, reusable or tattered clothes, worn-out shoes, eyeglasses – and more. These things too often end up in the trashcan for lack of a recycling outlet. And, although different recycling depots may already take some of these items, they are often in widely different places, demanding more time and effort than we have.
But now, news is spreading in Southeast Portland that many difficult-to-recycle items can be picked up every two weeks from your front porch! The new business that does this is Ridwell Recycling, a company that started small in Seattle, but has grown to serving 3,200 customers in Portland – as of last December – including 600 households in ZIP Codes 97202 and 97206.
Brooklyn Neighborhood resident Sharon Mann experienced her first Ridwell pickup in early February. "Before Ridwell, I did a lot of research to see where to dispose of things. The beauty of Ridwell is that it all can now be taken from my porch every two weeks." Mann has joined the service for a year, at $12 a month. She feels it's a bargain, not to have to drive far and wide to get rid of things responsibly.
Ridwell Recycling began as a simple project by a Seattle family. When six-year old Owen Metzger asked his father Ryan, "What happens when you throw things away," father and son started looking around the house for things that they might be able to responsibly recycle – instead of sending to a landfill. First they found where to dispose of old batteries, then plastic bags, then electronics; and from that point they got very excited about keeping more things out of the dump.
They created "Owen's List" for people to join to recycle difficult stuff, and their idea grew so fast they soon partnered with a few others – and, in October of 2018, they started a company they called "Ridwell Recycling". The public's frustration with finding recycling outlets caused the word to spread quickly as far as Portland, where it launched last December. The company now has a total of fifty employees in Seattle and Portland.
CEO Ryan Metzger told THE BEE, "We partner with local nonprofits, domestic recyclers, and community artists to give your stuff a new purpose. Your old jeans can become a rug, and the harmful chemicals in your batteries stay out of our tap water. We pick up your stuff at your front door, and we make sure it gets sustainably reused or recycled. You'll know your stuff stays out of the landfill."He says Ridwell carefully chooses each partner in the enterprise to ensure that it is the most reliable and responsible outlet to re-purpose things they collect. For example, batteries go to Ecolights, where they are sorted by chemistry and then are sent to different places to recover the metals and the chemicals inside.
In 2020, Ridwell's service kept 800,000 pounds of discarded materials out of dumps in Washington and Oregon. By weight, the two largest categories were clothing and shoes, and plastic bags of many kinds.
And their mission is not just disposal! When COVID-19 started hampering food banks, Ridwell collected over 20,000 pounds of non-perishable food donated by their members to distribute to local food banks.
Every two weeks there is a "rotating category" for pickup of difficult items. Used electronic devices go to Free Geek, non-perishable food items go to Birch Community Services; unused diapers are directed to PDX Diaper Bank; gently-used bras are provided to an organization called "NW Caves and Gift of Lift"; old kitchenware to goes to the Community Warehouse; and children's books are presented to the Children's Book Bank. Styrofoam is collected periodically for an extra fee.The Metzger family's passion for recycling has not waned, and Ridwell's Portland General Manager Taylor Loewen comments, "Owen and his younger brother Grant both serve as an inspiration, and occasionally stop by the Seattle warehouse. [I have heard] they are especially excited to see the old devices that come in, when that's a featured category. Owen especially loves learning about older technologies." The Portland warehouse is in North Portland by the airport.To see all of the things that Ridwell accepts for recycling, and to view short videos explaining how the company works, go online – www.ridwell.com
Their website is comprehensive and fun, and they promise a rapid response to questions.
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