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home : current news : current news January 22, 2018

1/2/2018 6:27:00 PM
Sisters recycling center hit with illegal dumping
Public Works crews have to haul away loads of paint. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Public Works crews have to haul away loads of paint. photo provided

By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Sisters Recycling Center is heavily used - especially right now when folks are hauling holiday packaging out of the house. Not all of that use is beneficial.

The City of Sisters Public Works Department, which maintains the site in the industrial park, reports an increase in inappropriate recycling and illegal dumping.

Some of the inappropriate use is probably due to lack of understanding as to what can and can't be recycled. For example, regular cardboard can be recycled; waxed cardboard can't. There are large signs at the center detailing what can and can't be placed in co-mingled bins. (See "Recycling Preparation Guide" on page 18.)

Recycling loads that are "contaminated" with non-recyclable items have to be sorted and can be rejected, which can mean recyclable materials may end up in landfills - which defeats the purpose of the process. With increased pressure on recycling due to changes in the market (see sidebar story, page 19), keeping recycling "clean" is more important than ever.

High Country Disposal, who collects recycling throughout Sisters Country, notes that people often engage in "wishful recycling" - putting inappropriate materials in bins wishing or hoping that it will get recycled.

The biggest direct impact on city staff is dealing with illegal dumping.

"What's killing us is the hazardous waste," said Wanda Braughton, maintenance supervisor with the City Public Works Department.

People are leaving antifreeze and a lot of paint at the site - where it doesn't belong. That means a work crew has to gather it up, load it into a trailer and haul it off to Deschutes County disposal sites.

"We actually have to take it to the right facilities, and we're not budgeted for that," Braughton said.

Dealing with hazardous waste dumping also takes personnel away from other tasks.

"We're a very small crew," Braughton noted.

Ace Hardware in Sisters will take paint and stain only. Knott Landfill in Bend will receive hazardous materials.

Braughton noted that the Sisters center will take used motor oil - but that service is designed for individual citizens, not for commercial use.

"Businesses need to recycle their own oil," she said.

Braughton thinks that the public doesn't understand that the facility is a recycling center only.

"It's not a transfer site," she said. "It's incredible, the household garbage that's left there."

Braughton said she's been confronted with trashcans completely full of somebody's cat litter - which has to be scooped out by hand.

The recycle center is unmanned and open 24/7, which makes catching illegal dumpers a challenge. That will be changing, though. Braughton noted that the facility's security cameras are now properly operational, and the City will monitor illegal dumping and refer incidents to the sheriff's office for investigation.

The center has operated on more restricted hours before, but that didn't solve the problem of illegal dumping. People just dumped their recycling - and garbage - at the locked gate, leaving it for public works to deal with.

"It's a small percentage," Braughton said of the dumpers. "And when you have a facility like that, you have to expect it. You do. Doesn't make it right."

Braughton also cited problems with people failing to break their cardboard boxes down, which uses up the allotted bin space quickly. When the bins get full, people then just dump their cardboard in the aisles.

"We spend so much time breaking down cardboard boxes and sorting out the waxed that's not acceptable," she said. "I think we've got a lot of room for cardboard - if it's broken down."

A few extra minutes, a little extra effort and a little more awareness of what can and can't be recycled will go a long way toward reducing the burden on public works staff and making the recycling center more effective.

Sisters Public Works Director Paul Bertagna acknowledged that there will always be some problems - but he's hopeful that raising awareness will cut back on inappropriate recycling and dumping at the site.

"We're not going to be able to curtail the bad behavior," he said. "But maybe we can guide people who want to do the right thing."

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