Vancouver Waste Transfer Station

Hello friends!! I have been taking some time away from the computer after my trip for some R&R. Now I am ready to jump back into blog land and talk trash weekly…okay maybe bi-weekly, We shall see how it goes. 😉

My first adventure after landing in Portland was to the Vancouver waste transfer station with my new friend Melissa Tiefenthaler.

I biked up to north Portland and met Melissa and her waste reduction education crew for a wonderful lunch and then biked together up to Re-Claim it! An awesome re-sale store that saves all sorts of weird/cool things from the Portland Metro waste transfer station and sells it back to the people of the city.

From there we biked all across the Columbia river into Washington state. I have officially made it to three states since my vow to not get into motorized vehicles for the year! Stoked!

The transfer station was very full due to some technical difficulties with the machinery. They usually run the station 8 hours a day every week. The belts move fast and the workers are frantically pulling off the material they are assigned to grab and tossing it down into chutes with other like materials. Interestingly I found out that here and at many waste transfer stations across the country they employ inmates from local prisons.

Once a good amount of the same material is collected, they move the mound via conveyer belt to a compressor. Creating compressed bales that they fill shipping containers with, truck those containers to a huge cargo ship taking it down the Columbia to a landfill in eastern Oregon or to China to get down-cycled or burned. Down-cycling is when one material like a plastic bottle is melted down and made into a plastic action figure or something of that sort and can no longer be recycled.

3 times a day the whole operation shuts down while someone climbs into a small door to cut out all the plastic bags that get stuck in the machinery. Plastic bags can technically be recycled when sent to the proper facility (most likely being made into plastic decking) but when they are placed into curbside bins they cause HUGE issues with the recycling center machinery. 30% of labor costs are equated to this job of unclogging plastic bags. If you want to recycle plastic bags take them to your local grocery store that accepts them.

The glass that is picked up is dumped into a large pile and taken to a local glass recycling center in North Portland. I would love to tour that place sometime soon!

Every waste transfer station I’ve been to is an overwhelming slightly depressing experience. What are we doing as humans? Why are we consuming at this incredibly fast rate? How do we transform our culture towards valuing thriftyness over newness?

Overall I had a great time in Vancouver and so grateful for Melissa and everyone at Waste Connections for showing me the facility. Looking forward to when that waste pile shrinks more and more!


Zero Waste. Infinite Fun.



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