Ridwell Pauses Memberships in Unincorporated Clackamas County After Months of Pressure

The hard-to-recycle pickup company has been embroiled in a yearlong fight to stay operating in counties and cities surrounding Portland.

Ridwell, the Seattle-based startup that collects hard-to-recycle items from doorsteps once every two weeks, announced to its customers Dec. 15 that it would be ceasing its services in parts of unincorporated Clackamas County after the county sent a cease-and-desist letter.

“We are sorry to share the news that Clackamas County officials have demanded that Ridwell cease providing service to members in unincorporated parts of the county (including your service address) or risk facing fines and legal enforcement actions,” Ridwell said in its email. “We do not agree with their interpretation of the local legal requirements and are working on coming up with a resolution that enables us to operate [there].”

Earlier this month, WW wrote about the Seattle-based company that’s unnerved local trash haulers who contract with the city. The haulers feel the company is operating without the same regulations the haulers are bound by. Ridwell has argued that because it is not collecting items that the haulers can collect in curbside collection, it’s not in violation of any franchise agreements that the cities have with the haulers.

Ridwell has over 18,600 members across Portland.

A spokesperson for Ridwell, who would not disclose their name, said the decision will result in the loss of between 100 and 200 members: “[Ridwell does] not agree on the county’s interpretation of the code, and they hope they can work it out.”

Local governments, including the cities of Tualatin, Beaverton and Lake Oswego and both Clackamas and Washington counties, have all told Ridwell to stop operating in various letters and other communications over the past year, to no avail.

Ridwell consistently fought back. “We simply don’t agree that state law allows cities to use an anti-competitive monopoly power (granted to them by the state to promote reuse and recycling) to prohibit reuse and recycling services that are not provided by the monopolist,” Caleb Weaver, Ridwell’s public affairs vice president, said earlier this month. “The franchise holders get the exclusive right to offer the service they have agreed to provide. But they don’t get to prevent others from offering a service that they aren’t providing under their monopoly agreement, in this case resulting in more landfilling and less recycling and reuse—in direct violation of codified state policies.”

Portland city officials, despite strong opposition from the Portland Trash Haulers Association, embraced Ridwell this fall when it created an exemption in city code that allows Ridwell and similar businesses to operate without consequence.

Clackamas County first told Ridwell to stop taking signups in March. Ridwell’s attorney wrote back: “We have taken a closer look at Clackamas County’s code and, as explained below, we do not agree with your conclusions that Ridwell’s activities are prohibited by the Clackamas County code.”

The county sent a cease-and-desist letter to Ridwell on Nov. 2, warning the company of fines and potential legal action if it refused to stop operating.

On Dec. 15, Ridwell sent the county back a letter, saying it would halt subscriptions in unincorporated parts of the county and would attempt to get a recycling license so it could resume service.

“Our hope is that this approach will enable us to avoid immediate disruption for our existing members in unincorporated Clackamas County, continue to reduce waste from being unnecessarily disposed of to the landfill, and prevent unnecessary disagreements or enforcement disputes,” Weaver wrote in the letter.

Ridwell says it will provide two more free pickups but would pause membership charges immediately, and urged its customers to reach out to local elected officials to put pressure on the county to allow Ridwell to continue operating.

In its Dec. 15 email to affected customers, Ridwell wrote, “We’re working hard to find a solution, but given the circumstances, we may need to pause service indefinitely if we are unable to make progress with Clackamas officials by January 15.”

Clackamas County spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddie-Webb told WW in a statement: “Services of the type Ridwell seeks to offer could be explored through our existing collection system as outlined in our county code. Alternatively, our board and Solid Waste Commission have expressed interest in learning more about the services offered by Ridwell for further consideration and evaluation to determine if changes are warranted.”

Metro and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are currently weighing whether to grant Ridwell’s warehouse solid waste facilities permits in Northeast Portland. Those permits are likely to be granted—but with a stipulation that the warehouse can only receive materials from cities and counties where the local governments have permitted Ridwell to operate, Metro has said.

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