Garbage mixed in with recyclable material costs time and moneyThe 31st Street recycling depot may soon be closed following a host of problems that have surfaced there, including people dumping their garbage at the site.

"Every problem we could have had, we've had at that site," said Mike Stern, recycling manager for McMinnville-based Sunset Refuse and Recycling that provides the recycling service for the City of Astoria.

The majority of the garbage left at the depot includes general household refuse, but he added he's seen everything from "hypodermic needles to construction debris."

"Piles of trash attract more trash," he said.

That garbage means added costs as crews need to pick it out from the recycling and haul it to the city's transfer station. Stern said this means people are paying extra and may lose another option of where to take their recycling.

In addition to the dumping, Stern said people scavenge for bottles and cans at the site. This is disruptive, he said, because it gets different types of materials in the wrong bins and can become a mess. He said there also is some outright vandalism, including containers being damaged.

There have been reports of people stealing large bundles of used newspapers and selling them, but Stern said he didn't have the foggiest idea where a person could find a market for such an item.

Problems at the depot were the topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the city of Astoria's 3R Committee (reduce, reuse and recycle). While no formal decision came out of that meeting, Stern said if those problems don't stop, Sunset, the city and Clatsop County would likely consider closing the depot.

City Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum said this is not the first time there has been a problem with the depot. In late January, someone was routinely dumping 150 pounds of kitty litter in with plastic recyclables.

Those litter dumps eventually stopped, but Mitchum said this latest round of problems is more serious than the kitty litter nuisance.

"If folks don't stop abusing the system we'll have to stop the service," he said.

Mitchum said it wasn't an issue about the city losing any recycling revenue from the 31st Street depot, because the returns on recycling are negligible compared to the costs of hauling the stuff from Astoria to any major market for the bulk material.

He said the real problem with the site is that it's in an open location, as opposed to the recycling site at the transfer station, which is behind a gate and usually has some city staff nearby.

"There are eyes on it so people don't abuse it," he said. And, Mitchum said, there's less need for the depot with Astoria's expanded curbside recycling program.

Stern also mentioned the fact the 31st Street depot is not in an ideal location for a drop off site.

"Because of its wide open nature, it lends itself to a considerable amount of illegally dumped trash," he said.

Added to the less than ideal location are the operational hassles of the site that Stern said are pushing his company to close it.

"If you strictly look at it from an operational view, it's an inefficient way of collecting recycling," he said.

But, he added, he doesn't want the public to get the impression that Sunset is not behind recycling. He said the company is 100 percent for recycling, it just don't want to see it done inefficiently and at a high cost to its customers.

"I have an obligation to tell people the recycling depot they think is going well has some speed bumps in it," he said.