Blue Skies Follow Metro's Reign

Shadowed by majestic Mt. Hood and its more volatile sister, Mt. St. Helens, Portland resides in the northwest corner of Oregon, situated at the confluence of the mighty Columbia and Willamette rivers. The city and surrounding metropolitan area count among its assets three Rs: rivers, roses and recycling.

The Portland region boasts a 78 percent curbside recycling participation rate and a 41 percent recycling rate. Not content with those figures, however, the region is striving toward a 53 percent recycling rate by 2005 - a cut above the state-mandated goal of 50 percent recovery by 2000.

How has this metropolitan area of 24 cities and three counties accomplished so much? Through an unlikely, but usually effective, combination of cooperation and competition. In the public sector, local governments work in partnership with Metro, the nation's only elected regional government, to develop and implement solid waste management disposal and recycling programs. At the same time, dozens of private businesses have a hand in the waste management system, from household garbage collection to innovative recovery operations.

Regional Coordination Metro includes 27 different jurisdictions, and its staff works with a regional advisory committee to develop and implement solid waste management plans on ten-year cycles with updates every five years. The committee, which includes citizen, government and private sector representatives, provides input from planning through implementation.

The most recent plan update, which extends through 2005, anticipates a regional population increase of more than 200,000. According to Metro officials, this boom will add another quarter of a million tons of waste to the current one million tons disposed annually unless aggressive waste reduction programs are implemented.

"The region's strategy for the future is to prevent waste in the first place," said Metro's executive officer, Mike Burton. "If we increase our recycling rate to 53 percent by the year 2005, we will realize a 10 percent decrease in waste landfilled, despite significant population and employment increases."

This means preventing an additional estimated 315,000 tons of waste from being landfilled through prevention, recycling and energy recovery. Metro and local government staff develop and implement cooperative annual waste reduction plans to move the region toward 53 percent, and Metro supports city and county programs by providing challenge grant funding and technical assistance.

Of the $3 million Metro allocated for fiscal year 1995-96 waste reduction activities, nearly $1 million was distributed to local governments and public institutions to underwrite recycling containers, school education programs, public information campaigns and recycling assistance to businesses. From 1990 to 1995, more than $1.8 million was disbursed. Local governments also provide their own funding.

Away With Waste Oregon has been at the forefront of recycling since 1971 when the state passed the nation's first bottle bill. In 1983, the Opportunity to Recycle Act required curbside recycling collection in cities with more than 4,000 people, recycling depots at solid waste sites and widespread recycling education programs.

Metro picked up the recycling banner in the 1980s, and has worked with local governments, business and the public to create some of the country's most effective and innovative waste reduction programs. In addition to high recovery rates for common curbside recyclables and office paper, the region has made strides in diverting construction and demolition (C&D) waste, yard debris and household hazardous waste.

Recovery rates include 52 percent for wood, 47 percent for paper and 70 percent for yard debris. Success in these and other areas is the result of aggressive education and outreach programs, healthy markets, private-sector investment and a $75-per-ton tipping fee.

The region's efforts to divert C&D waste have been widely recognized. In 1994, about 43 percent of the 500,000 tons of C&D debris generated was diverted, with much of it being converted to fuel, reconstituted panel board and kraft paper. The goal is to increase the recycling percentage to more than 80 percent through education and incentive programs.

The incentive is clear, considering that many types of construction waste can be recycled at a fraction of the tipping fees in the region. As an added incentive, Portland recently instituted mandatory recycling on all construction projects of $25,000 or more as part of a broader recycling requirement for all businesses.

The Earth-Wise Builder program, developed with local governments and the construction industry, works with builders and remodelers to promote resource-efficient building practices and operates a consumer referral service.

Yard debris recycling has grown substantially in the past five years thanks to residential recycling programs, healthy markets and home composting education. Yard debris, collected at curbside throughout the region is processed by 18 local compost processors. The resulting ground cover and soil amendments are in high demand. Through its voluntary Earth-Wise compost certification program, Metro tests local compost to provide quality assurance.

Metro has offered free composting workshops and materials throughout the region since 1991 and has sponsored discounted compost bin sales for the past three years. A one-day sale in June drew an unprecedented response to an offer of $22 Earth Machine compost bins: All 11,000 bins sold within a few hours at four locations. Metro expects that within two years, 50 percent of single-family households will compost, diverting more than 125 million pounds of yard debris annually and food wastes from disposal annually.

The region's household hazardous waste collection program is one of the most sophisticated in the nation. Metro operates state-of-the-art hazardous waste collection facilities at its two transfer stations.

Last year, the two facilities served more than 21,000 customers and handled more than 1.5 million pounds of hazardous waste. In addition, a number of events are held to provide no-cost collection services for tri-county residents at convenient neighborhood locations. Metro spends $3 million to $4 million a year to recycle, reuse and dispose of household hazardous waste and to provide related education programs.

The lifeline to the public for these and other regional recycling and disposal programs is the Metro Re-cycling Information Center. The hotline provides service Monday through Saturday, and answered 105,000 calls for recycling and disposal information in the last year. In 1995, the service was honored with the National Recycling Coalition's top award for the nation's most outstanding public education program.

Despite successful waste reduction programs, approximately one million tons of the total waste generated in the region is still being thrown away. Significant amounts of paper, food waste and yard debris is still landfilled. Commercial and industrial businesses, excluding construction and demolition, produce about 43 percent of the region's waste. C&D waste currently ac-counts for about one-fourth of the waste stream, and is expected to increase with regional growth.

Although a local municipal waste compost facility closed several years ago because of odor problems, Metro is committed to funding private pilot projects to explore new ways to deal with organic food wastes, primarily from grocery stores. A year-long project to collect, reload and transport food waste to a remote rural compost site is being planned. The regional solid waste management plan proposes to have business and residential organic waste recovery systems divert about 117,000 tons of food waste each year by 2005.

Metro and local governments will continue to work with businesses and commercial generators to increase waste prevention and recycling activities, expand recycled-product procurement and develop new markets for recyclables. Metro is working with Browning-Ferris Inc. (BFI), Houston, one of its transfer station operators, to divert high fiber loads of non-recyclable paper and plastic waste and convert them into fiber-based fuel.

Private Initiative More than 70 regional businesses create products from recycled materials, transforming newspapers and magazines into newsprint, wallboard gypsum into fertilizer, wood waste into fuel, scrap iron into reinforcing bar and tires into tire drive fuel chips. Good local capacity is augmented by out-of-state and international markets hungry for metals, plastics and paper. More than 40 percent of the increase in total recycling between 1993 and 1994 was attributed to increased paper recycling (see chart).

Weyerhaeuser's Oregon area manager, Craig Sherman, credits the pragmatic partnership between business, government and the recycling industry as a key ingredient in paper recycling. "Oregon ranks second in the nation for per capita consumption of recycled paper," he said.

The emergence of Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), which primarily seek wood waste, paper and metals generated by businesses and contractors, is partly responsible for the healthy local end-user markets. Through its planning process, Metro encourages private sector initiative in handling recoverable materials. As a result, the agency is seeing multiple players to form alliances, joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions.

Dollars From Disposal While waste prevention and reduction, resource conservation and regional coordination are important roles for Metro, disposal pays the bills. Metro also collects tip fees at transfer stations and a surcharge at franchised solid waste disposal facilities and landfills outside the areas authorized to receive regional waste. This revenue, which totaled nearly $60 million in fiscal year 1995-96, finances most of Metro's solid waste management services. Metro owns two of the three transfer stations that process the region's municipal solid waste and franchises the third:

*Metro South Station, which Metro opened in Oregon City in 1983, is currently operated by Waste Management Inc. (WMI), Oak Brook, Ill.

*Metro Central Station, opened in Northwest Portland in 1991, is operated by BFI. Each station handled about 375,000 tons of waste last year.

*The Forest Grove location is privately owned and processes approximately 70,000 tons of waste yearly.

Waste is compacted at these facilities and transferred to a regional landfill, a smaller local landfill and an energy recovery facility outside the region. About 827,000 tons of waste was transferred last year. In 1995, Metro reported one percent real growth in transfer station handling while the metropolitan area population grew by two percent.

Much of the waste that goes to these transfer stations was previously disposed of locally at the St. Johns Landfill. As the region's principal landfill for 50 years, St. Johns was closed to new waste in 1991. The following year, Metro began the six-year, $40 million landfill closure process.

In 1987, after years of unsuccessful attempts to site a new local landfill, Metro signed a 20-year contract with Oregon Waste Systems (OWS), a subsidiary of WMI, to receive most of the region's garbage. The Columbia Ridge landfill near Arlington, Ore., is located in an arid rural area 130 miles east of Port-land. Metro currently pays OWS a fixed and variable fee. The variable fee is for each ton of garbage disposed at a rate that is annually adjusted to reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index.

At the same time the OWS contract was signed, a bidding process involving rail, barge and trucking companies was held for long-haul transport from Metro transfer stations to the Columbia Ridge Landfill. The winner was Jack Gray Transport, Gary, Ind., a trucking firm whose sealed and leak-proof trucks carry an average load each of 29.2 tons of waste. In the first 11 months of fiscal year 1995-96, Gray trucks transported nearly 673,000 tons of waste to the Co-lumbia Ridge Landfill in 23,069 trips.

Since the OWS and Jack Gray contracts were signed, several private landfill operators have opened new landfills, expanding regional disposal capacity dramatically. However, OWS is guaranteed 90 percent of the region's acceptable waste disposed of by Metro in any general purpose landfill each year.

The costs of closing the St. Johns Landfill, operations and debt service on Metro's newest transfer station, long-haul waste transport, waste reduction and hazardous waste programs, and improved landfill disposal have driven tipping fees from $17 per ton to $75 per ton since 1987.

The higher fee has stimulated increased waste reduction activities, particularly by large industrial generators of heavy waste. This, coupled with in-creased residential and business recycling and recovery, presents Metro with slipping disposal revenues.

Local Collection While Metro handles the majority of waste disposal, collection is done by private companies that are franchised by the cities and counties. More than 100 independent haulers operate within the metropolitan area. Local governments regulate and direct haulers to improve recycling and waste collection services, increase participation in waste prevention and recycling programs and ensure they comply with legislation and regional solid waste plans.

The Portland metro region includes the urban areas of three counties:

*In most of Washington County, 26 franchised haulers provide both residential and commercial garbage service. The county administers the franchises in unincorporated areas, while the 10 cities in the county are responsible for their own hauler franchising.

*In Clackamas County, 25 franchised haulers serve residential and commercial customers. The 12 cities in the county handle their respective hauler franchising while the county oversees franchises in unincorporated areas.

*In Multnomah County, the scenario is different for its 73 haulers. Each of Multnomah County's six cities, including the city, administers its own franchises.

Residential service is franchised throughout the county, but commercial garbage service is franchised only in the cities of Fairview, Gresham, Wood Village and Trout-dale.

Within the city and its urban service boundary, two dozen haulers offering commercial container services must compete for customers and support a mandatory business and multi-family recycling program.

The city, with nearly 500,000 residents, comprises approximately 40 percent of the metropolitan area.

Until 1992, its residential service was unfranchised, which often resulted in multiple haulers serving the same area. To improve the residential recycling services, the city council franchised the haulers and created a formula that generally preserved each hauler's customer base while assigning contiguous routes to avoid overlap.

Of the 49 franchised residential haulers still operating in the city, 15 have a large enough customer base to provide independent recycling services. The remaining haulers formed a cooperative recycling district to serve 50,000 of the city's 125,000 households.

The system has worked so well, said Bruce Walker, residential manager for Portland's solid waste and recycling program, that the city received 1996 honors from the American Forest and Paper Associa-tion, Washington, D.C., for the best curbside recycling program in cities with populations of 100,000 or more.

In 1995, typical weekly residential service, including collection of one 32-gallon garbage can and recyclables, averaged about $17.50 per month. This rate covered curbside collection of a dozen source-separated items - from long-neck plastic bottles to junk mail - on the same day as garbage service. Yard debris also is collected curbside, but frequency varies with local jurisdiction.

Such convenience is credited with helping to achieve the region's 78 percent residential curbside recycling participation rate.

The Future With landfill capacity no longer a critical issue in the region, the metropolitan area now faces more pressing issues of adequate transfer station capacity, waste reduction, flow management and solid waste system financing.

Regional decision-makers are seeking new, equitable ways to finance the solid waste system while emphasizing reduction and recycling.

Solutions to the region's solid waste management problems will hinge on Metro's ability to continue to nurture cooperative relationships with local governments, create innovate public-private partnerships and build consensus on how the system evolves.

The only regional government of its kind in the nation, Metro was created nearly 20 years ago by the Oregon legislature to streamline and coordinate certain services among the three counties and 24 cities in the Portland metropolitan region. It serves a 3,000 square mile area, and boasts a combined population of more than 1.2 million.

Metro is governed by an executive officer, elected region-wide, who administers the agency's programs and staff. A seven-member council, representing seven districts, directs Metro policy, enacts legislation and approves the agency's annual budget.