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Ridwell to Cease Service in Unincorporated Washington County

The hard-to-recycle items pickup company has met strong resistance from city and county officials outside Portland.

Ridwell, the subscription company that collects hard-to-recycle items in Portland and its surrounding cities, is pulling its service out of unincorporated Washington County on Jan. 15. The decision comes two months after the county sent Ridwell a cease-and-desist letter, warning it to suspend service or face potential enforcement action and fines.

The news comes just two weeks after Ridwell announced it was halting its service in unincorporated Clackamas County, where it also received a cease-and-desist letter.

The Seattle-based company expanded to Portland just over a year ago and had topped 18,600 metro-area customers as of last month.

But the trash haulers who contract with cities and counties across the metro area pushed back against the service, arguing it was encroaching on their territory and operating against exclusive franchise agreements they have with municipalities.

Ridwell argued it was not encroaching on the haulers’ turf, because Ridwell only picks up items that currently are not supposed to go in any recycling or trash bins, like batteries, light bulbs, threads, and plastic clamshells and foam.

But Ridwell’s argument didn’t stop Washington and Clackamas counties from sending Ridwell a series of letters over the past year, warning them to stop service.

Portland was a lone oasis: The Portland City Council unanimously approved amending city code last October to allow Ridwell and other similar subscription services to operate alongside the haulers’ franchise agreements, despite pushback from the Portland Trash Haulers Association.

The company continues to operate in Tualatin, Beaverton and Lake Oswego—despite those cities telling them to cease service.

Last month, Ridwell’s vice president of policy Caleb Weaver told WW, “Many local officials have acknowledged that our service can help achieve their waste reduction goals, but they also appear to be feeling pressure from forces that seek to protect the status quo.”

“We believe it’s inconsistent with both state and public policy and state law,” Weaver said at the time, “to use the franchise monopoly power to outright prohibit the collecting of items for reuse and recycling that aren’t included in the curbside recycling service.”

Late last week, Ridwell submitted an application to Clackamas County for a recycling license outside of the franchise hauler agreement. Such a license does not exist in Washington County.

By spring of next year, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the regional government Metro, which sets recycling policy for the Portland area, will decide whether to give Ridwell a permit for its Northeast Portland warehouse. Both agencies say it’s likely the permits will be granted, but will add a stipulation that waste only come to the warehouse from municipalities that have greenlighted the service.