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Let’s get dirty ~ Hood River Garbage Transfer Station

Hood River Garbage

While I was searching through my images for trash pictures for a video that we’re working on for Zero Waste Bloggers Network, I realized that I don’t have any. I not only have no pictures of trash, I also have rarely the opportunity to see real trash.

Yeah, I carry out our trashcan every Thursday (if I don’t forget) but that’s as much trash as I ever see. Well, that and the half full large trash bag that our neighbor puts on the sidewalk at the same time. 

So, I got curious and wanted to see more than just my own small bin and drove over to the Hood River Garbage Transfer Station. That’s the place where the garbage trucks go after their tour through the city, where they unload the whole stinky load and where everything gets loaded onto large trucks which haul it to the final destination. Citizens can also bring stuff, either if they don’t have the service or they got more then gets picked up.

Hood River Garbage Office Entrance Door

Mr. Doug Speer the Operations Manager was so nice to spend some time with me and answer my questions. He wanted to hand me a small foam stress reliever in the form of a trash can and a small plastic garbage truck. Cute, but I refused and said that my mission is trash prevention. He looked puzzled for a moment but then walked around with me and explained the Transfer Station.


15 people work for Hood River Garbage: 5 garbage truck drivers, 2 recycle truck drivers, 2 transfer station tenants, 2 mechanics, 1 ‘transfer guy’ and 3 customer service employees. 

The garbage trucks arrive at different times at the transfer station and unload all the trash by pouring it on the ground. An excavator moves everything over an edge under which a large truck is standing. Once the truck is full, the ‘transfer guy’ drives the load to Wasco Landfill South of The Dalles, the neighboring town. That’s a 34 min drive. He makes this tour 12 times a week. 

Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of the truck. It’s huge! It’s hard to imagine 12 of those trucks. Or 48.  

48 of those trucks in just one month for a tiny town like Hood River, which has around 7,400 inhabitants. 


Doug said, most people think that those plastic bags in which they package their trash are recyclable because it’s possible to return plastic bags to supermarkets for recycling. The difference here is though that the supermarkets get only the clean plastic bags and nothing else. Nobody is there who goes through the actual landfill trash to remove all the plastic bags and even if that would be done they could still not be recycled.

At the transfer station also the recyclable materials arrive. Paper and carton, glass and some plastics. 

One pizza box in this whole pile of recyclable carton makes it un-recyclable because of  the oil from the pizza.

So your environmentalist action plan from now on can include one easy task: find a way to compost your pizza box, make pizza at home or even put the pizza box in the regular trash. Anything is better then putting it in the recycling bin. Who new that? I for sure didn’t.

Hood-River-Oregon-Transfer-Station-4 Hood-River-Oregon-Transfer-Station-2

And Dough had another surprise for me: The business goal of the Transfer Station is officially profit maximization. They aren’t making much profit but that’s what they are aiming for. This calculates roughly out of income from the fee citizens have to pay for the trash pickup, minus the cost (trucks, employees, etc.) plus what they make from selling the material. That’s for example the paper and carton that gets sold to a paper recycling facility in The Dalles, the recyclable plastic to a company in Vancouver.

I think, our world wouldn’t be as trashed as it is if the business goal of municipal waste management would be trash prevention and education of the citizens. But that’s just me.

Glass mountain at Hood River Garbage Transfer Station

While we where talking about trash, a lady pulled a pink kids bike out of her car and wanted to know where to put it: trash or recycle? Doug and I made both big eyes since the bike looked perfectly fine. We both had many ideas for the young lady what to do instead with the bike: thrift store, give away for free via the local facebook groups, donate to The Next Door. She took her bike back and after she was gone, Doug said, ‘ That happens all the time. People don’t know what to do with things they don’t use anymore.’

At the end of our meeting I asked Doug, ‘If you could ask the citizens of Hood River to change just one thing, what would it be?’

‘Learn what is recyclable in Hood River’, he said. 

He walked over to a bin with me which contained plastic food packaging and picked one of those translucent plastic things out that hold the cookies in place in their carton box. ‘We call this bin commingled. It’s supposed to include recyclable paper and plastic and aluminium cans only. But it always contains a lot of these non recyclable plastic things like this one here’ and waves with the cookie tray over to me. ‘It’s hard for people to differentiate between the different plastic types’, I said and he pointed me to the plastic type number on the tray which should help answer this question.

So here is a list of things that are recyclable in Hood River and which not: Recycle at Home. Please remember one important fact, even if you’re not from Hood River:

Even if packaging says it is recyclable, it’s still possible that it isn’t recyclable where you live. If the facilities aren’t there, the material goes straight into the landfill or incinerator.

My visit to Hood River Garbage Transfer Station was eye opening but I now want to see the landfill and a MRF (Material Recovery Facility, “murf”, Recycling facility) as well.

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  1. Nadine says

    Good point about the pizza boxes. This always came up in my compost sessions with students because they noticed the shreds of pizza boxes in my compost samples. When I told them they are not recyclable, they were shocked.

    My husband and I were having this discussion about “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to trash. He doesn’t live ZW on his own (I definitely lead that in the household), but he has become so much more conscious of it now that I have introduced it to our household. It is crazy how much garbage households can produce. And in my town we do not get charged for extra bags. I wish there would be a municipal limit to how much garbage you can put out each week, and that a charge would apply to those going over it. However, then I would have a fear that people would just dump their trash wherever because you just can’t put ignorance past some people…

    I think this is an important site for people to see: the landfill. And also to understand the whole process. And what happens when we fill up a landfill. What then? More land. And then? More land. And then…

    • Thank you, Nadine, for your comment. It’s true, people don’t see it, people don’t care about it. I think if more people had seen a landfill or factory farming, the world would be a better place.

  2. Even though I am based out of Chicago, this is really good information to have, Inge! It is very difficult to know what plastic can and cannot be recycled – especially depending on where you live! I know people who didn’t even know to clean out their old pasta sauce glass cars before recycling them. You’re right – we are uneducated about our trash.

    You’re really inspiring me to check out my local garbage facility. Thanks for sharing about your experience.

  3. Really good points. Our county doesn’t recycle chipboard, which I just realized recently, so those boxes of baking soda were just ending up in the landfill. These things vary so much from municipality to municipality.

    • That’s a bummer! Could you use them in your compost as brown stuff or use them as fire starters for your next bonfire?

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