Throwing dirty diapers out with the recycling may become illegal

Throwing dirty diapers out with the recycling may become illegal

PORTLAND, Ore. – Each time Dan Dempsey goes to open the lid on a recycling container on his Northeast Portland route he never knows what he'll find.

"The diapers are gross man," he says. "Yeah, the adult diapers are bad."

Most of the time Dempsey thinks folks don't realize what they're doing is wrong. But sometimes they do. Cutting back trash pickup to every other week has led to less garbage and more recycling, but it also has critics who want the old schedule back and perhaps a few are trying to make a point.

In any case, Mayor Sam Adams wants a new city code prohibiting people from tossing trash in with recycling and composting.

His proposal prohibits plastic bags, diapers, pet waste, Styrofoam and solid waste from compost bins. And then adds wood, food and yard debris to the recycling bin restriction list.

But the proposal doesn't spell out a punishment for violating the code.

So why doesn't it?

"This is just the way city government works," says sustainability manager Michael Armstrong.

Armstrong says the city wants to protect workers like Dempsey from health risks and to keep contaminants away from valuable recyclables. But details, such as how to enforce the law, are still months away.

Without any specific punishment or even rules to enforce proper recycling, for the time being, the city code really won’t do much of anything to stop somebody from throwing their trash in the recycling containers.

It turns out Dempsey's OK with that as long as the dirty diapers are rare.

"I'm surprised at actually how well it's turned out," he says. "I thought it would be worse."

Dempsey says he sees diapers in about one out of every 100 bins.

The City Council will take testimony on this Wednesday and could vote as early as next week. According to city staff, they're only interested in fining repeat violators.