Illegal dumping may force closure of recycling center; Residential refuse rates are affected by problemThe Western Oregon Waste (WOW) recycling depot on 31st Street could be closed or moved - because of a deluge of illegal dumping.

The illegal dumping has become a persistent and costly problem, with tons of garbage, old appliances, furniture and other contaminated trash, including kitty litter and diapers, being discarded at the recycling center daily.

Recently, the center has seen an influx of 5-gallon containers of cooking oil being dumped there. Officials credit the unlawful dumping to the depot's location, away from the highway and in an industrial area.

The city and WOW are trying to decide on the fate of the recycling depot, but managers don't plan on making a final decision for some time.

"The issue is that a few irresponsible or uneducated people are damaging the opportunity for everyone else," said Mitch Mitchum, Astoria's public works director.

Mitchum doesn't view relocating or closing down the depot as good ideas, and would like to try to improve the existing situation first. He is considering adding surveillance cameras and he would like responsible users report illegal dumping. Then he could contact illegal dumpers and try to educate them about the recycling process.

"We would educate first, do a follow-up and talk to them," Mitchum said. "We would tell them what's allowable and what's not."

Mitchum explained that a few months ago he caught a restaurant owner dumping containers of cooking oil at the depot. According to the owner, he assumed that the oil was OK because motor oil is accepted.

Once Mitchum confronted him, the problem stopped for awhile.

"A lot of people are 'assuming' for their own convenience," he said. "We were happy though. We thought we solved the mystery, but later someone else showed up with a different container."

However, Laura Leebrick, the operations manager of Western Oregon Waste, is more inclined to move the facility or close it. She says the sheer volume of illegal dumping is disheartening.

"If the recycling depot is not used for the purpose it was set up for, we don't see the point in keeping it open," Leebrick said. "We'll have to close it if the contamination persists."

She said the addition of an informative sign has had no effect. She said many depots don't seem to have these problems, though two in Dayton and Grand Ronde were closed for similar reasons.

"It defeats the purpose of having a recycling depot," Leebrick said. "If people are cramming those full of garbage, then all the people who sort their recycling are doing it for nothing. All the recycling that's gone in has to be thrown away."

The costs of illegal dumping ultimately affects all those who get refuse and recycling services at their homes.

"It costs all the garbage customers more money," Mitchum said. "The company operates the service as part of the bill. Rates are based on what it costs to provide the service, and when guys have to go and sort through the recycling for garbage, it costs more. Even the people who think they're getting away with it - by not paying to go to the garbage dump - are not.

"People here are passionate about recycling, Mitchum said. "It's an important part of our quality of life and we sure don't want to lose it."

To report illegal dumping at any recycling depot, call 338-5173.

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