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Ridwell sues Washington County over recycling collection access

Ridwell specializes in collecting hard-to-recycle materials. The company was recently ordered to stop operating in unincorporated Washington County.
Credit: KGW

PORTLAND, Ore. — Niche recycling startup Ridwell has filed a lawsuit challenging Washington County's recent decision to bar the company from operating in unincorporated parts of the county.

Seattle-based Ridwell collects items that can't be recycled in standard curbside pickup bins such as light bulbs, batteries and plastic clamshell food containers, charging a monthly subscription fee for residential pickups. 

Ridwell says it's keeping the materials out of landfills because consumers tend to throw them out if there isn't an easy recycling option. 

But local garbage haulers in multiple places where Ridwell has set up shop have argued that the startup is making an end-run around the rules that govern the industry. A Willamette Week story last month reported on the company's battle with Portland trash haulers.

Earlier this month, Ridwell announced that Washington and Clackamas Counties had both directed it to stop operating in unincorporated parts of the counties, where the county governments provide waste service through contracted haulers.

RELATED: Ridwell recycling service ordered to stop operating in unincorporated Washington, Clackamas Counties

Ridwell lawsuit

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland, alleges that Washington County didn't have a valid reason under state law to block Ridwell, and only did so to protect its existing contracted waste haulers.

Ridwell began operating in Washington County about a year ago and currently has about 1,600 subscribers in the county, according to the lawsuit, which the company said would translate to more than $200,000 per year in lost membership fees if it can't resume operations.

Washington County requires any company that collects waste or recycling to have a certificate from the county, but the lawsuit argues that a certificate would force Ridwell to accept all recyclable materials rather than just the difficult niche items.

The lawsuit argues that Oregon state law does not give the county the power to require certificates for specialized collectors who only pick up items that are not accepted as recycling under the county's own curbside pickup program.

The lawsuit is limited to Washington County because it concerns that county's specific municipal code, according to Caleb Weaver, Ridwell's vice president of public affairs. Ridwell currently has a pending application for service in Clackamas County, he said.

RELATED: New company helping Portland and surrounding area become greener community

County contemplating alternatives

Washington County does appear to be preparing to make changes to its recycling rules, although Weaver said the proposed update wouldn't address the core issue with the certification rules that the lawsuit seeks to challenge.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners held a work session to review the topic of recycling services on Jan. 18, and directed county staff to develop a new collection program that accepts a wider range of items.

The board is expected to vote on temporary amendments to the county's recycling service rules at its next meeting on Tuesday, according to the meeting agenda.

The new program would rely on the county's existing garbage and recycling providers, but the board also requested that the rules be temporarily adjusted to allow providers without certificates, including Ridwell, to collect hard-to-recycle materials until the new program is ready to go. 

However, the draft amendment resolution specifies that those other providers would need to cease collection if a certificate holder is authorized to collect those items.