County official: Repairs, donations key to waste reduction
After more than 20 years, Columbia County is updating its solid waste management plan with a renewed focus on the "reuse" aspect of the common refrain of "reduce, reuse, recycle."
One part of the plans: create a "reuse center" at the transfer station in St. Helens, making the dump into a one-stop shop for residents with trash, recycling and usable goods.
"The idea is to have it staffed and then any resident in Columbia County can drop off something that can be reused. That could be a good piece of wood, an open package of insulation, furniture, anything," Kathleen Boutin-Pasterz, the county's solid waste program coordinator, explained.
"We're not going to compete with any of the wonderful places that are already selling stuff in Columbia County," Boutin-Pasterz said, referring to resale shops like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore and Top Notch Thrift Store, which benefits the St. Helens Senior Center.
Rather than selling donated items, Columia County's reuse center will be open to nonprofits to take items for free.
Boutin-Pasterz said that people who come to the dump are often looking to make one stop to get rid of all their junk, rather than driving from one location to another to slowly clear out their trunk or truck.
The initial plans for a reuse center were drawn up after the transfer station was built more than a decade ago, but came to a standstill.
In the past few years, the department has started setting money aside to fund a building at the transfer station site to house the reuse center.
The money should be ready by 2023, Boutin-Pasterz said.
Most items look to be in poor condition by the time they hit the tipping floor, but there's often furniture that may have been in better condition when it left that person's home, and could have been reused.
"We know that the possibilities are out there," Boutin-Pasterz said. But as for how much material could be diverted from the landfill through a reuse center, "we won't know until we actually open this up."
Currently, waste brought to the station is placed into the compactor and loaded into trailers. When trailers are full, they're driven to the landfill.
The transfer station, which is owned by the county but operated under contract by Waste Connections, also known as Hudson Garbage, handles more than 200,000 pounds of solid waste each day.
The transfer station also recycles electronics, scrap metal and some other items for free, and other items, like car batteries, construction debris and large appliances, for a fee.
Sharps containers, which hold needles, syringes and other sharp objects, generally for medical use, can also be taken to the transfer station.
In April, led by the solid waste advisory committee, the sharps program expanded to five fire stations in the county, allowing users to exchange full sharps containers for new, empty ones.
The advisory committee, which includes representatives from the two waste haulers serving Columbia County and three community members, also prompted the county to expand battery collection.
"The residents will bring what they would like to see happen, from the sharps container to the batteries to can we have more places just to recycle glass — we haven't fixed that one yet," Boutin-Pasterz said.
The committee currently has two open positions, which require meeting four times a year.
Boutin-Pasterz is also in the process of compiling a list of local businesses and nonprofits that can help reduce waste, by repairing broken items, accepting donations, or lending out items to help avoid unnecessary purchases, like the "library of things" in Scappoose and St. Helens' public libraries.
"When your car breaks down, you know you're going to get it repaired, because it's so expensive," Boutin-Pasterz said. "We can take that idea that we have when we have something really expensive like our house and our car and move it down," getting items like clothing or electronics repaired, rather than tossing them out.
The updated solid waste management plan is still in the draft form, not yet approved by the county commissioners.
The previous plan, completed in 1998, "had a really good foundation because it put the emphasis on waste reduction and reuse, and just kept moving from there," Boutin-Pasterz said.
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