Newcomer deemed out of compliance, but recycling models permissible under code may expand

PHOTO BY FRED JOE, COURTESY OF METRO  - Mixed recyclables await sorting at the Metro South Transfer Station in Oregon City. Curbside recycling is sorted by workers there before being processed. 
Clackamas County is considering expanding its recycling policies after a startup's unique business model was determined to be out of compliance with existing county codes.

Ridwell Inc., a Seattle-based recycling company, collects and processes difficult-to-recycle materials, including household batteries, electronic waste, light bulbs, plastic film, textiles and more for a monthly subscription fee, according to its website.

Under Oregon law and Clackamas County code, several materials collected by Ridwell are currently not defined as recyclable, instead falling under the "solid waste" category due to their cost of recycling exceeding their cost of disposal.

Additionally, Ridwell's subscription-based service model is not contemplated under existing county code, which permits only franchised collectors or their subcontractors to charge fees for solid-waste collection.

Ridwell was issued a cease-and-desist letter by the county in early 2021, detailing the alleged violation and inviting further dialogue between the company and county staff.

The company responded that they did not feel their services were out of compliance with state or county codes and proceeded under their original business model until November 2021, when they received a second cease-and-desist notice from the county and opted to temporarily suspend their fee while campaigning for their services to be permitted by the county.

At a policy meeting on Tuesday, Dan Johnson, the county's director of transportation and development, introduced to commissioners two prospective options including expanding the county's definition of recyclable materials to allow Ridwell and other similar providers to operate, as well as directing existing recycling collectors franchised with the county to begin accepting materials similar to those of Ridwell's model.

Johnson said county staff plans to discuss these options with the county's Solid Waste Commission and current franchisees to develop a recommendation for commissioners to consider at a future meeting.

Chair Tootie Smith said open dialogue between the county and its current franchisees is a must going forward, referencing previous controversial waste collection fee increases.

Smith added she is open to having services like Ridwell's in the county, so long as the provision of services allows for fair competition.

Commissioner Paul Savas said he is in favor of what is in the best interest of county residents and the environment, adding that the county's incentive to franchise these services is not to make profit, but rather to ensure everyone in the county is served.

County staff said the waste commission will return with a completed recommendation tentatively by March.

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