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Portland Oregon's Green Flagship Recycling Program : Fraud? Scam? Good Intentions Gone Very Wrong?

Updated on December 9, 2012

Portland supposedly successful complex recycling program supposedly is working and a great model for the rest of the world? Maybe not!

Once again big controlling local media especially the Oregonian , The Portland Tribune and OPB and various other television and radio stations, bloggers and more are telling us what a great success Portland Oregon's new very complex recycling program is working and working well. On one hand it might seem to be true because some people who recycle everything might not pay anything for garbage pick up service. Lucky them but their success comes at a cost to everyone else. Why all the true believers and lack of skepticism? The agency that administers most of the recycling and garbage collection in the metropolitan area is METRO which spends more of it's time promoting self promoting propaganda programs that configure almost all the information anyone has on Portland Metro garbage disposal. Other than some annual reports of a few larger public participating corporations the public has very little access to the real information on the costs and benefits of the program. That is for a reason. To keep the public and their real trash in the dark.

A little history on Metro and trash disposal in the metro area brings up the big landfill story a few years ago where the land fill was removed or rather covered over and shut down and moved around a hundred miles to the east though the Columbia river gorge to Arlington, Oregon. The idea was to put the land fill out of sight and out of mind far far away out in dry desert eastern oregon. The garbage then had to go first to transit stations built by Metro and then shipped out east. The first idiotic thing besides putting the landfill so far away was to give all the contracts to move the garbage to a trucking company and waste diesel fuel to get it out east instead of putting it on a more efficient rail road already down along the Columbia River front. After the trucks reached their destination on the interstate highway that only had a few hundred feet elevation gain along the river than those trucks had to go way up into the hills away from the river to deposit the garbage way away from view at more significant diesel fuel costs. That should have been a lesson in stupidity from the very beginning because using energy to dispose of garbage is not exactly anything other than counterpoint to the recycling dream. If you have to spend energy and other resources to dispose of garbage you are adding to the problem as first perceived not solving it. That went on for a number of years with garbage disposal rates going up and up to pay for a program that was just a remote out of sight out of mind land fill far to the east. More recently the program was upgraded to full recycling with homes and businesses required to sort garbage into various types of recycling materials for pick up or disposal. The complexity of the program resulted in five six or more types of recycling bins having to be put out on the curbs for homes and businesses. The streets of Portland became an ugly multi colored plastic bin and garbage can scenic area in an area more than 10 sq miles as far as the eye can see with varying days of the week when one can go out and see the plastic bins somewhere out in front of homes year round or just on pick up day. Talk about beautification of the environment this is now a permanent fixture for all practical purposes. That was just the tip of the iceberg of things that were starting to go wrong. Just the visible part. Some people saw their garbage pick up rates go to zero by recycling sorting everything but they usually do so at a cost of their time and effort and the time and effort is significant when you start to add it up over several hundred thousands of people participating.

The system set up by metro now allows garbage to be disposed of in one container and encourages people to sort various types of paper and plastic but not all types and put them in a separate container. Yet another separate container allows glass to be recycled maybe with aluminum cans mixed in. Steel cans can go anywhere because magnets can always get that out of garbage fast and sure unsorted. Recently table food scraps were added and a new closed plastic box was added for pick up . Garden waste has another bin for curb side pick up and other items can't be placed in any bins or easily disposed of at all. It is illegal to put certain electronic devices like old television sets in the trash but you see those at the curb. There is no where to dispose of mercury filled light bulbs and no where to dispose of other items unless you drive them to unknown places to dispose of them personally. People are putting dirty diapers in to the clean recycling bin and the garbage authorities want to add fines to such acts of garbage misplacement. Garbage has to be clean to get disposed of as recyclables!

What happens first is wasting energy and resources beyond the success rates for the program reported. Immediately we find out that hundreds of thousands of people up to millions recycling are wasting clean tap water and even using warm or hot water and soap to wash out bottles and cans and other packages for recycling. We also find out tha businesses with trash disposal issues have to have trash disposal programs to be in compliance and as such they have to hire their own personal to clean and dispose of recycling and sort that from the rest of the trash. The costs add us and up and recycling moves from being the after thought in our economic and social existence it used to be where we just threw it out to becoming a major industry. Well it only gets worse from there because the costs of recycling and garbage disposal are much higher than it seems.

Pick up of garbage is where much more energy is wasted. It is possible for a garbage disposal company to pick up garbage and take it to a local plant where it can be burned to produce energy that exceeds the amount of energy used to pick up the garbage and produces economic value but that is not what is happening. For the stupid greenie feel good recycling program we waste tons and tons of costly fuel. Instead of one garbage truck picking up everything burning gasoline or even natural gas fuel a week we now have 3 or 4 different types of trucks going past every home in the metro area at least once a week and more types of trucks going to industrial and business addresses. Most of them are burning diesel fuel. Most are brand new trucks that cost energy to make and only last so long before they break down and need to be replaced using more energy The problem of not producing waste is not exactly being solved. The propaganda is always the opposite. Everything is great.

Well run the numbers. Three trucks picking up garbage that one type of truck used to do for the metro area and then taking that garbage to transfer stations where again it gets sorted with more labor and put on different trucks. Now maybe some of it goes on train at a more efficient rate out to the distant Arlington landfill or still by truck and the other garbage going to recycling plants or down to the port to be transported as ballast overseas to China or India to other even more distant recycling plants. As a result of the all of this complexity of process huge amounts of energy are being wasted. The cost of the garbage by the time it gets to the recycling plant is significant but those plants get it at a subsidized price not having to pay the real costs of collecting and sorting the trash themselves. The funny thing is and not very well known to most people listening to the local propaganda is that in other parts of the county garbage recycling companies will actually pay you to sort your garbage for pick up as opposed to make it cheaper like they do in Portland to dispose of it. Yes many recyclables have a market and as raw materials for recycling materials recyclables are becoming valuable. The economics of that value are completely hidden from the people in the portland metro area when all of the efforts lead to such a tremendous waste of energy time and lost opportunities for more local recycling efforts that waste less. The overall cost of portland recycled garbage now obviously exceeds any intelligent efficient disposal model. In other words we are making Portland Garbage almost as valuable as wheat harvesting without any similar benefit in being able to eat it or use it. Yes someone behind the scenes is getting good benefits from the program but we the public are subsidizing something that a high overall cost that is doing more to savage the environment by wasting local water supplies and expensive fuel supplies also with environmental consequences just to feel good about having ugly multi colored plastic bins on the streets in front of houses as far as the eye can see. Talk about ugly and stupid this is it! Cost of recycling has become no object for the true believers which means our society sees this kind of waste of resources as one of our ultimate luxuries. Society could take the same amount of energy and build giant pyramids out of the garbage and we could have shrines there like the ancients did or we could just build plants that burned the garbage unsorted producing more energy than used to sort and collect it and get something of real value from it.

Now wait a minute my critics say... Oh the aluminum plants save money on getting aluminum as opposed to having to go dig up ore from the ground and the same with steel cans and old willamette week newspapers littering the landscape goes to china to make pulp toilet paper instead of cutting live trees for toilet paper for the 300 million new middle class people in China who may actually use toilet paper. Oh and all the good for the compost being made and the worms that metro is raising....good good good. Not exactly this is being done at significant costs that may actually be helping to make fuel costs higher in China and maybe adding to industrial pollution in China as they use more coal to produce toilet paper from newspaper that we could have burned to add power to our power grid with instead of shipping as ballast. It is difficult to say what the true benefits are because metro is efficiently masking the true costs of their stupid feel good programs to keep their power and central planning authority going. Thugs are not going to give you a break down of the costs of kidnapping you for a ransom and Metropolitan service district won't either. Because market forces are hidden from the public the program that is a complete failure seems to be a raging success to idiots who what to make garbage disposal a big part of their life. Some people in the metro area spend more than 20 minutes a day processing their garbage for disposal. 2o minutes a day in a year is 5 days a year in time equivalent. In 20 years those people are putting in 100 days or 3 months of time. What if instead of charging us Metro just let companies bid to pay us for sorting our garbage to get the goodies out of it they want for recycling as is happening elsewhere? Then people who want to make it their life can do it and those of us who don't care and want to waste our productive time doing some thing else don't have to? It is true there is some voluntary choice in portland just no real benefits to offset the staggering costs. Never forget that I see people every day using hot water and soap to wash out items for recycling . It makes me cringe watching big gallon plastic milk jugs washed out with warm water and soap just to nicely sit in the plastic bin out on the curb. Stupid just gets stupider and Metro should be held responsible. The best thing for metro and all of it's lines of business for it to be defunded and the various parts sold to the highest bidder including their failing convention center or given back to the public to use for free as subsidized as they are (like the zoo) and be disposed of itself. Disposing of Metro would be the best local recycling program once you really start doing the real numbers. How come metro does not publish what they would ordinarily call the externality costs. You know all those costs I just talked about. Energy waste. Water waste. Time waste? They don't because they are not ethical and not honest. Metro has to be held accountable and disposed of.


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