That thin plastic wrapping around toilet paper rolls. Bubble wrap. Ziploc bags. Batteries. Dead light bulbs. Old clothes. If, like many of us, you see your own personal landfill pile higher every day with things you can’t hand off to city recycling or haven’t got round to dropping at Goodwill, help is at hand. Ridwell, a Seattle company which recently expanded to Portland, is dedicated to sustainably reusing and recycling these kinds of items and more, and has already signed up more than 1,600 Portlanders to add to some 17,000 in Seattle.
The company grew from an idea three years ago when Seattleite Ryan Metzger and his then 6-year-old son, Owen, put their heads together to figure out how to move on things they had that they didn’t want to just dump in the trash. They did some research, found where to go with certain items, and began to drop them off. “I knew batteries could be recycled, and so we found a place for that,” says Metzger. Every Saturday, he and his son would pick a category, alert some neighbors they were headed for a drop-off, and collect whatever their neighbors had accumulated. The list of interested neighbors grew—fast. Metzger got a website up, calling the service Owen’s List, and suddenly his team of two found themselves with thousands of interested parties signing up. So two years ago, with a team of eager cofounders and a client base already established, Owen’s List became Ridwell, and recycling got a whole lot easier for many more people.
Here’s how it works: You sign up under your chosen tier (prices run $12–16 per month), and Ridwell delivers a bin and four bags labeled by category: batteries, light bulbs, plastic film, and threads. The company picks up once every two weeks and often includes featured categories on special items such as eyeglasses, holiday lights, loose Legos, and more. Ridwell partners with companies—including one that turns plastic film into composite lumber for decks, benches, and playground sets—to find uses for hard-to-recycle goods, and last year alone kept 800,000 pounds of waste out of the landfill.
With things ramping up in Seattle, Portland was an obvious next step for Ridwell, says Metzger. “We had over 300 people just on a waiting list [in Portland] who just heard about us from friends in Seattle, or people who were members of Ridwell in Seattle that moved to Portland and reached out to say, ‘Hey, when are you moving to Portland?’” he says. Last November, they launched here with four zip codes in North, Northeast, Southeast, and Northwest Portland, and are adding several more in the coming months with plans to have all of Portland included in the near future.
“I've had like three or four pickups, and I love it,” says Northeast Portland resident Megan Bulger, who had used Owen’s List when she was in Seattle. “I fill up the plastic film bag every single time. I could do it with bread bags alone! And especially, right now, we're getting all of our groceries delivered, and they deliver them in plastic bags a lot of the time. So I can put them in there and maybe feel a little less guilty about the choices I’m making.”