Diapers cause problems for Portland recycling

Diapers cause problems for Portland recycling


by Keely Chalmers

Bio | Email | Follow: @KeelyChalmers


Posted on May 14, 2012 at 8:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 16 at 6:55 AM

PORTLAND - A messy problem is winding up in Portland recycling bins - dirty diapers.

According to Keith Ristau, president of Far West Fibers, Inc., the disposable diapers started showing up in recycling bins about the same time the city started limiting its trash collection, and he says diapers are just one part of the problem.

It’s up to recycling plants like Far West Fibers to take in all the stuff we recycle, sort it, and send it off for good use. The plants are not trash collectors, but KGW has learned that over the past few months, that's what some in the Portland area have become.

“We’ve always had some garbage, but it increased by 50 percent in November,” said Ristau.

That was just about the time the city of Portland adopted its curbside composting program. Under the new program, trash pickup went to every other week and recycling pick-up moved to every week.

“A certain number of people are running out of room in their garbage bin and placing it in their not quite full recycling bin,” explained Ristau.

Included in that garbage is a concerning amount of dirty diapers. Ristau says the diapers are not only costly to dispose of, they actually pose a health risk to plant workers who have to pick them out.

Far West Fiber’s Northeast Portland plant went from seeing one diaper every couple of months to sorting through 120 pounds a day.

Barbara Esselink is mom to a 2-month-old.

“We have a lot of diapers,” she admits.

She has never put the diapers in the recycling bin but says after two weeks in the trash they can get pretty smelly.

“When it’s hot, it does get pretty stinky,” she said.

The City of Portland says it’s well aware of the problem and is working with haulers to find the offenders. But it also points out those offenders represent only about 1% of Portland residences.

It maintains the program's benefits far outweigh its challenges.

“Since the program started, based on hauler reports, we've seen a 44% decrease in garbage collected curbside that’s going into our landfill,” said Lisa Libby, the mayor’s planning and sustainability director.

Some Portland residents agree the program does make them recycle more.

It's not just baby diapers ending up in the recycling bins. According to Ristau about 40% are adult diapers.

The city says it has already located many of the offenders and if they don’t stop, they could face fines.