State Regulators Tell Startup Ridwell: Apply for a Permit for North Portland Warehouse or Shut Down

The company that picks up hard-to-recycle items from Portland homes tells WW it intends to submit the application by Nov. 30.

Plastic containers at Ridwell's warehouse in North Portland. (Sophie Peel)

State regulators have told Ridwell, a recycling collection startup that entered the Portland market late last year, to apply for a permit or shut down its North Portland warehouse by Nov. 30.

Ridwell, a subscription service that collects hard-to-recycle items, including batteries, light bulbs, threads, plastic clamshell containers, and plastic film twice a month from homes’ doorsteps, expanded to Portland late last year. It says it has over 18,000 customers in the metro area. A subscription costs between $12 and $16 a month.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in June toured the company’s North Portland warehouse, where Ridwell stores collected items before shipping them to companies that can repurpose, reuse or recycle them. It told Ridwell the company needed to submit a material recovery facility permit application by Nov. 15.

But instead of receiving an application, DEQ got a challenge Nov.12 from Ridwell’s attorney, Ashley Wigod. She argued that Ridwell collects items that are not solid waste, and therefore the company didn’t need the permit.

“Oregon [Administrative Rules] exempts facilities from the requirement to obtain a disposal site permit if they receive ‘source separated materials for purposes of material recovery,’” Wigod wrote. “Material recovery includes the process of facilitating reuse and recycling. Ridwell’s facility does not separate materials from an incoming mixed solid waste stream and therefore is not a Material Recovery Facility.”

DEQ shot back with a Nov. 17 letter, telling Ridwell it was committing a Class I violation—the most severe kind—by not obtaining a permit. It told Ridwell that it either must submit the application by Nov. 30 or shut down the warehouse entirely.

And if not? “This matter may be referred to the Department’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement for formal enforcement action.”

Ridwell tells WW today that it will comply by submitting an application by the Nov. 30 deadline. Caleb Weaver, Ridwell’s public affairs vice president, says: “We’ve been back and forth with DEQ for a while. We let DEQ know Friday that, based on new information, we were going to submit an application and have it in by Nov. 30.″

Weaver says Wigod’s letter “lays out our civic concerns with a structure that’s not built to incorporate somebody who’s doing something that’s a little bit different than garbage hauling. They just have a really hard time figuring out where we fit.”

Regional planning agency Metro, meanwhile, is in the midst of considering Ridwell’s application for a solid waste facility license. A public comment period on Ridwell’s request ends Dec.1.

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