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Trash Can Project Isn't Rubbish: Astoria Park & Recreation Saves Money and Engages Community

Posted By Amanda Parsons, Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"We are very excited about the program,” rang the cheerful voice of Angela Cosby, Astoria Park & Recreation Director.  “We have redesigned all of our trash cans,” she said, “they are very cool.” 

Most people would be skeptical of someone who refers to trash cans as “cool.” Most people would be right.  But this story isn’t about trash cans.  Or rather, not just about the 42 new trash cans in Astoria, Oregon. 

This story is about how a small parks and recreation department saved money, developed private partnerships, and worked with stakeholders to design and implement a program as effective as it is aesthetic. 

“This project was one of the many steps we took in trying to balance out our resources vs. requirements” said Cosby.  In 2018, Astoria Parks & Recreation did some careful reevaluation of their services.  As with any organization going through lean process improvement, they looked at the small tasks as well as the larger programs. 

“It is an essential part of any maintenance program to get garbage out of parks,” said Jonah Dart-Mclean, Parks Maintenance Supervisor.  According to him, park staff were spending almost 16 hours a week emptying garbage cans.  “This is a significant amount of time for our parks maintenance staff, which is already pretty limited.”

The time spent on emptying garbage wasn’t the only problem, however.  “One of the issues with [the previous garbage cans] was that they had a larger orifice so people could put large bags of garbage into them and overfill them” said Dart-Mclean.  The construction of the cans, as well as overuse, resulted in damage and undue wear over the years.

“We started looking for ways to partner with different agencies to become more efficient” said Cosby.  Working with city council, Astoria updated a franchise agreement with Recology, a recycling and waste removal company, to include the emptying of garbage cans in all Astoria’s city parks.  Astoria residents will see an average rate increase of 50 cents, which covers the collection of all garbage in the parks – a small price to pay for beautiful green spaces. 

“We knew it took our staff more time than it would have taken Recology, who are already out and about with the right equipment, like a garbage truck,” said Cosby.  She emphasized the reduction in risk of injury playing an important role in the decision.

According to Scott Miethe, Operations Supervisor for Recology, the impact on his team was relatively low.  “This added 42 more stops to one driver on Monday and Friday.  It isn’t a burden because 42 cans aren’t much for us.  It is only about half an hour to an hour.”

Some changes needed to be made to the trash cans, however.  “In order for Recology to be able to collect garbage, they needed the efficiency of actually having a cart,” said Cosby.  This cart would be familiar to any Astoria resident as it is the same used at home.  However, while the wheels on the cart are convenient for a homeowner, it posed a problem in a park setting.

In order to keep the cans in place around the park, and make sure they were used appropriately, Astoria began working on designing enclosures for the carts. 

The first step of this process was making sure the enclosures served well in function.  Miethe provided the carts.  “I worked with [Dart-Mclean] to make sure the plans would work, that the cans were the right size to fit them.”  In addition to providing the cans and dimensions, Miethe was available during the design process to double check the enclosures would work for his team during collection.

The inside of the enclosure included a locking mechanism to help prevent dumping.  When asked if this was a challenge, Miethe remained relaxed.  “The locking mechanism is a bit different than we are accustomed to, but it totally works.”

In addition to the functionality, Astoria Parks and Recreation was committed to making sure the design was a reflection of the city.  The second step of this process could be described as a master class in stakeholder involvement.

Instead of building a standard enclosure (or purchasing one from a manufacturer), Astoria took this opportunity to engage members of the community.

“One of the challenges was trying to find a common aesthetic goal and getting everyone to agree to design aspects.” said Dart-Mclean.  “Also, we have a variety of areas, such as our river walk which has one type of view and aesthetic, and then our playground areas and historic parks. We tried to find a design that would mesh for all those different use types.”

Astoria Parks and Recreation turned to Historical Preservationist John Goodenberger to provide insight into the design process. 

“I’m kind of the old man of city hall,” said Goodenberger, “not because I’m the oldest person at city hall but because I can remember the 90’s when we talked about protecting the waterfront.  And during the 1990’s we came up with the Robert Murase Plan.”

Robert Murase, a landscape architect, was most notable for his work on the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Portland, Oregon, the Garden of Remembrance in downtown Seattle, and the Astoria Waterfront Redevelopment.  Murase’s design was heavily influenced by Japanese gardens and often used stone compositions and water elements.

According to Goodenberger, Murase saw the natural beauty in Astoria.  “He came and said, ‘Have a light touch to the waterfront, it is really something special.  When you add something to the waterfront, don’t make it noticeable, don’t call attention to it – just let it blend in as you might a Japanese landscape.”  Goodenberger, who also teaches at Clatsop Community College in the Historic Preservation and Restoration program, sees it as part of his job to remind citizens of Astoria of the commitment to the Murase plan.

This perspective played an important role in designing the trash can enclosures.  “Rather than have something nice and shiny and new, and that would be beautiful, I’m sure, we decided to do something that was more reflective of Astoria.  This is a little bit harder edge, a little more industrial, and has a little bit of rust on it,” Goodenberger noted.

For this look, Astoria turned to Steel and Timber, a construction and fabrication company based in Oregon.  Steel and Timber worked within the area to collect recycled materials from old buildings.

“All the materials that were used were locally sourced and reused.  The sheet metal is from a barn in the Jewell area that was donated and cut into the roof and sides of the receptacles.  All the wood is old growth Douglas Fir from a warehouse that was being demolished in town,” said Dart-Mclean.  He expressed having fun working as an intermediary between design and function.

From a historical context, Goodenberger is pleased as well.  “Historic preservation is recycling an entire piece of architecture of the next generation and we took that thought and incorporated it in the garbage cans… It has this kind of deterioration and patina.  Certainly Astoria and its waterfront has that patina and we wanted that to come into play.” 

More than just trash cans, this project represents both a reflection of the past and hope for the future.  “We are hoping to be more sustainable throughout the years” said Cosby in reference to managing resources.

“I really cannot overstate the value in not having to be responsible for emptying the garbage cans through the parks” said Dart-Mclean.  The reduction in staff time for garbage collection can now be redirected toward other park projects. 

And what about the residents?  “[Cosby says] the community has been very responsive to it in a positive way.  It tends to fit in,” said Goodenberger.  He believes the design plays an important role in the appeal.  “It’s kind of low tech, it is industrial.  It is rustic with patina.  If you were to ask people to describe our community, they might use different words, but it would all be the same kind of concept.  We value the fact that this not a pristine, shiny, town.  We like the fact that it is a little bit rough on the edges.”

Astoria expects to have all trash cans deployed by the end of July.  They will be placed across all their parks and along the waterfront.  

Tags:  Astoria  Park Projects  We Are ORPA 

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