Valet Waste recycling issues ‘deemed corrected’

DEQ, Metro action followed resident complaints and KOIN 6 News investigation

Blue recycling bags in the garbage dumpster at the Deveraux Glen Apartments in Beaverton, May 2016 (KOIN)
Blue recycling bags in the garbage dumpster at the Deveraux Glen Apartments in Beaverton, May 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The State of Oregon is taking action after residents showed KOIN 6 News recycling bags being thrown in the trash.

The Department of Environmental Quality took notice, as did Metro — and Valet Waste, which has contracts with complexes across our area and across the country, is changing its recycling process.

In a November KOIN 6 News investigation, blue recycling bags were seen being thrown in the trash over a period of several months. The people who recorded those videos, Andi Prewitt and Jeff Myers, live at the Deveraux Glen Apartments near Beaverton.

Jeff Myers and Andi Prewitt have witnessed Valet Waste putting recycling bags into the trash compacter at Devereaux Glen Apartments, October 2016 (KOIN)
Jeff Myers and Andi Prewitt have witnessed Valet Waste putting recycling bags into the trash compactor at Devereaux Glen Apartments (KOIN)

“It was the same thing every time,” Myers said then. Valet Waste’s website says recyclables should be in a blue or clear bag for easy identification. “They chucked the blue bag,” Prewitt is heard saying on one of the videos.

“Of course they did,” Myers replied. “It’s just like they did every night.”

What Prewitt and Myers told KOIN 6 News matched what our investigative team saw at another apartment complex in Washington County in October. KOIN 6 News set out a bag of recycling, watched Valet Waste crews and tracked the bag electronically to the compactor.

After that KOIN 6 News story, Metro and the Oregon DEQ found Valet Waste in violation of recycling rules.

Kieran O'Donnell, an environmental law specialist with the Oregon DEQ, February 2017 (KOIN)
Kieran O’Donnell, an environmental law specialist with the Oregon DEQ, February 2017 (KOIN)

“It prohibits mixing those (recyclables) with garbage in any kind of collection or disposal activity,” said Kieran O’Donnell, an environmental law specialist with the Oregon DEQ.

The state told Valet Waste it must show it will make sure “materials are properly recycled.”

The DEQ also recommended Valet Waste work with Beaverton to develop an employee “training and evaluation program, including routine auditing.”

Documents:
Vancouver letter about Valet Waste
Metro to Valet Waste
Oregon DEQ to Valet Waste
Valet Waste to Metro
Valet Waste to Oregon DEQ
Metro to Valet Waste – final

Valet Waste disputes the violation and is working with the agencies. The DEQ informed the company it “may assess a civil penalty for each day of violation” at the Deveraux Glen Apartments.

Asked if DEQ will address more widespread problems, O’Donnell said, “Absolutely. That’s why DEQ enforces laws. It’s a deterrence. We want to deter not only Valet Waste, but other providers from prohibiting Oregon law.”

KOIN 6 News also found the City of Vancouver has had a problem with Valet Waste. Blue (recycling) bags were found in the garbage at the River Point Apartments.

Vancouver tried to get Valet Waste to change its recycling ways in 2015. A series of city employee emails contain complaints like this:

“…they are contaminating ALL of the materials in complexes they serve. Is there any authority we could use to make them stop…”

But the State of Washington doesn’t have the same recycling laws as Oregon. The City of Vancouver sent this letter to property owners asking for help:

“We asked Valet Waste if they would work with us… …The company representative reported there is no other way to provide Valet Waste service because of the terms of the contract. He suggested that if plastic bags are a contaminant, then they would just throw everything away.”

Since then, Vancouver said it’s been telling concerned residents to carry out their recycling themselves.

Valet Waste declined to do an interview with KOIN 6 News. Instead, they issued a statement.

Valet Waste: Just the Facts

The company says it was already working to fix recycling problems “prior to any knowledge…of a potential news story” which aired on KOIN 6 News in November.

Valet Waste explained the company that takes the recycling from them was rejecting entire loads that contained garbage customers had put in with recycling — such as contaminated pizza boxes and perishable food.

To fix the issue, Valet Waste said its employees started inspecting each blue bag for contamination and threw away any which would be rejected by the recycling hauler.

After the KOIN 6 News story in November, Valet Waste contacted the cities of Vancouver, Portland and Beaverton and the Oregon DEQ to develop policies to educate residents about proper sorting.

As of mid-January, Valet Waste said it has a “new and improved process” so that recycling doesn’t get thrown away.

Metro released information about what they understand that new process to be:

“…the city of Beaverton hosted a meeting with Valet Waste and representatives from local governments including Metro and DEQ. The purpose of the meeting was to provide Valet Waste an opportunity to meet local government representatives, share a high-level overview about the company (Valet Waste) and its service valet operations, and for local government representatives to share information about applicable solid waste requirements and available resources. At this meeting the local governments provided feedback about Valet Waste’s operations and necessary changes to comply with the solid waste requirements. These requirements include keeping glass separate from the other recyclable materials and to stop using plastic bags to collect recyclables as plastic bags are not currently authorized in the current recycling programs in the Portland region. Metro and DEQ further clarified that Valet Waste cannot determine that source-separated recyclables are too contaminated and then dispose of the recyclables. Valet Waste can decide not to pick up the recyclables due to contamination and educate tenants (through a tag, door hanger, etc.) similar to what other haulers do for their customers. The facility receiving the recyclable materials will process and sort the materials or consult DEQ as needed if the materials are too contaminated to be recycled.”

Metro officials told KOIN 6 News the Valet Waste issues are “deemed corrected.”

The Oregon DEQ told KOIN 6 News it is still investigating Valet Waste and is still deciding whether to issue a monetary fine against the company.