Recycling conditions raises eyebrows


Last updated 11/7/2023 at 12:09pm

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Conditions at the Sisters Recycling Center - including oil disposal - are messy, though officials say the situation is not volatile.

Several users of the Sisters Recycling Center are raising objection to the seeming lack of good housekeeping in recent weeks and months at the facility on Sisters Park Drive.

"Recent?" scoffed Emmy Burnham, when The Nugget stopped to ask users their impressions. "It's almost always like this."

The Recycling Center was a scene of overflowing bins, blowing debris, and rickety stacks of discarded petroleum products, mostly motor oil.

The area of greatest concern is not in plain sight. It's around back where an industrial-size, heavy steel tank receptacle sits, wherein users can discard bulk motor oil. The tank is nearly four feet tall and appears difficult to reach, in large part as it is surrounded by discarded five-gallon pails of assorted industrial fluids, and a tilting 55-gallon drum, contents unmarked.

The vat-style tank's sides are heavily stained with spilled oils and/or grease. There are no clear instructions on its use. The Nugget showed photos and videos of the tank and its surroundings - which, at the time, included discarded batteries sitting on a puddle of oil within a foot of the tank - to Chief Roger Johnson of Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District.

Johnson was not alarmed, given that oil and lubricants as compared to gasoline or diesel are not that volatile. However, he is asking the fire marshal to visit the site and assess its danger. The chief saw no immediate risk, though he agreed that were it to ignite, however unlikely, the resulting fire would be significant.

The Nugget made inquiries of the City of Sisters, who owns the Recycling Center, and some minor cleanup has been made. However, on Saturday the liquids, largely unidentified, still remained, but the batteries were not to be found. Likewise, the adjacent corrugated collection containers – 20 cubic yards each – were again overflowing and spilling.

City Manager Jordan Wheeler said: "We contract with Republic Services to maintain the Center, which includes emptying the receptacles at least twice a week, sweeping and cleaning, and responding within 24 hours when they are notified of full receptacles to be serviced.

"The agreement stipulates that Republic Services should be doing daily site visits and cleaning, but that is currently not being met due to staffing and capacity issues. Staff also monitors the property and notifies the hauler when the bins are full.

"Republic recently placed the larger commercial containers which will hopefully help with the capacity and collection of the recyclables, and the City recently made some repairs and safety improvements to the facility.

"Unfortunately, there is a lot of illegal dumping of trash at the site, unauthorized use, and contamination of the containers with non-recyclables."

The Recycling Center was built in 2006 at a cost of $500,000. It was heavily used but saw a major drop in usage in 2008 when curbside pickup of recyclables - except glass - was instituted in Sisters. Many of the users are from outside the City where no options exist, such as Tollgate.

But the City foots the bill. Joseph O'Neill, finance manager for the City, confirmed that the City pays for the Center's waste removal under contract to Republic Services. The City gets no share of the recovered waste the bulk of which is corrugated and glass.

Republic bales and sells the corrugated box waste, which currently fetches about $40/ton at paperboard mills in Oregon and Washington. Recycled glass on the other hand has virtually no value despite its many uses.

The mixed waste - plastic, cans, bags, etc. - is just that: a mixed bag. Republic has to sort it, a good deal of it mechanically but with human interaction. Aluminum fetches almost $1,300 per ton while plastics range from $4 to $90 per ton, depending on type. Clear peanut butter or salad dressing jars have a much higher value than plastic shopping or bread bags.

There is no available information on the value of the waste Republic recovers from Sisters, and the City's budget does not line-itemize expenses to run the Recycling Center.

Wheeler talked about the Center's future.

"We will be working on the plans for the long-term future for the Center with the State's implementation of the Recycling Modernization Act, and as we add additional curbside services within our city such as glass recycling," he said.


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