Washington County is facing a federal lawsuit from a recycling company that wants to operate in unincorporated rural areas.
Ridwell filed the lawsuit against the county on Friday, saying the county is going against state law by not allowing the company to operate. The lawsuit came just a day after county officials announced plans to expand their own recycling program.
In the same announcement, officials said the board of commissioners might temporarily change the county’s rules to allow private businesses like Ridwell to collect recyclables from homes and businesses “until the new program is in place.” Commissioners are expected to make a decision at their next meeting on Tuesday.
Ridwell’s complaint says the county barred its services because the company “charges a fee for its service and would thus pose a challenge to the Waste Haulers’ perceived economic interests.” The company argues the county is violating state law by not allowing it to provide a service that goes beyond franchise agreements with hauling companies that collect recyclables in curbside bins.
“What we’re asking the court to take a look at is whether these local jurisdictions can read that monopoly contract that they’re giving to the garbage haulers to exclude anybody from providing services that the garbage haulers aren’t even providing,” Ridwell spokesperson Caleb Weaver said. “We believe that there needs to be some innovation in this space, and the people who come up with new ideas about how we can help reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill should be given an opportunity to provide that service.”
Ridwell is a Seattle-based company that offers a subscription recycling service for things that are generally not accepted by curbside haulers, including batteries, light bulbs, and tattered fabric. Pricing depends on the location and subscription plan; if you’re in Portland, it could range between $12 and $16 a month.
A Washington County code forbids anyone to collect waste for profit within unincorporated areas — that is, outside cities’ jurisdictions. Ridwell applied for an exemption last May, but a volunteer advisory committee denied it. Committee members questioned the company’s transparency in how it handled materials and its employment practices. They also weren’t sure if an “unregulated solid waste collection” service aligned with the county’s waste plan, according to the county’s website.
At the same meeting, an association representing Oregon garbage hauling companies proposed expanding the county’s recycling program. The new program would collect hard-to-recycle materials from residential customers. It would be an ancillary service, so customers would pay an additional fee for the pickup.
Fees would range between $5 and $7 per pickup, depending on volume. The service charge would include a fee paid to Washington County.
The Washington County advisory committee called on Ridwell to cease operating in the county’s unincorporated areas by Jan. 15, 2022. The company had about 1,600 customers in the county at the time, according to Ridwell’s legal complaint.
This isn’t the first time the company has faced conflict with local governments and hauling companies. Clackamas County is also considering expanding its recycling program to accept more materials after finding Ridwell’s service doesn’t comply with county codes. In December, Willamette Week reported that hauling companies are extensively lobbying local politicians and government staffers to stop Ridwell from operating in their service areas.