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Storm damage recovery

Waste Collection Events: DIY Guide

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Volunteers in safety vests help unload large waste items like furniture into a large brown dumpster that's partially filled with old mattresses.
A guide for planning and organizing a "Dumpster Day" style community waste collection event for items that don't fit, or aren't allowed, in curbside waste bins. Includes tips for offering recycling and reuse at your event, plus how to find funding, market your event, and collect data.
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What type of event will you host?

Think about what will make it easiest for people in your community to transport their bulky household items.

  • Will they be able to drive it to an event?
  • Or do they not have a car?
  • Will they need help moving larger items?

Below are different types of collection events to consider.

Neighborhood: One large drop-off area

This is the most common type of event. It is hosted in a large area like a parking lot with a dumpster for large waste items, as well as possible collection of hard-to-recycle items, items that nonprofits accept for donation, and/or a garage sale or swap area.

It occurs on a specific day and time, like “Saturday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., or until the dumpsters are full.”

People drive their items to the drop-off event. (A few people may walk items to the event or use a bike trailer, but most arrive in a car or truck.)

This type of event:

  • Does not easily serve people without cars.
  • Does not serve people who need help moving large items.

Apartments: Multiple drop-off areas

Several drop-off areas are set up throughout an apartment building or other type of multifamily community, allowing a shorter distance for people to travel to dispose of their waste, and less crowding in one place.

This type of event:

  • Serves people without cars.
  • Does not serve people who need help moving large items.
  • Requires more volunteers since there are multiple event locations.

In-residence pick-up

Residents sign up in advance to have large, bulky items removed from their home. A junk removal company or moving company enters the residence within a specific time window and hauls items away.

This type of event:

  • Serves people without cars.
  • Serves people who need help moving large items.
  • Requires hiring professional junk removal or moving companies.

Other activities to offer

Repair: Help people repair broken items instead of throwing them out. Organize skilled volunteers or invite repair-focused businesses to offer bike repair, tailoring, or carpentry. Find local vendors at Portland Repair Finder or contact Repair PDX to ask if a volunteer "fixer" can attend your event to collect fixable items, like microwaves or vacuums.

Litter cleanup: Partner with SOLVE to include a neighborhood litter cleanup or native planting.

Graffiti removal: Partner with the City's Graffiti Program to include graffiti removal.

Tree planting: Partner with Friends of Trees to include street tree planting, which creates cleaner air and reduces heat in summer.

Reach out to the Portland Street Art Alliance about installing a mural by a local artist.

Include a local food vendor or ask other nonprofits to table. 


Volunteers in safety vests help unload large waste items like furniture into a large brown dumpster

Where will you host the event?

If you are planning an event at a central meeting point, consider the following location aspects for a successful event.

How much space do you need?

People will need to drive their cars or trucks into the space, have space near the dumpster (and/or other drop off areas) to park and unload their vehicle, and then exit the area.

In order to prevent a long line, it’s ideal to create a loop that allows multiple cars to enter the space at the same time and have a separate exit or an entry that’s wide enough to allow one car to enter while another leaves.

You’ll also want to think about how the dumpsters will be arranged. When a truck drops off an empty dumpster, the dumpster doors will open at the back of the truck. So if the truck backs up to the edge of the parking lot, the dumpster doors will open on the edge of the parking lot. In large parking lots, locating the dumpsters in the center of the lot may be best.  

How will the entrance and exit be set up?

If people line up in their car to drop off items, will they block traffic? Is the entrance wide enough to fit vehicles entering and exiting at the same time? Or can drivers enter from one place and exit another?

How many volunteer flaggers will you need to help direct people into and around the event space?

If you plan for cars to line up on a residential street, we recommend reserving the parking on the street through the Portland Bureau of Transportation in order to prevent blocking cars and additional obstruction of traffic.  

Will you have a donation area or a swap/resale area?

Do you have enough space to separate that area from the trash dumpster?

  • If you have a lot of space, it’s ideal to set up a separate drop-off area for reusable items. 
  • If your space is tight, set up the reusable item drop-off area before the dumpsters in the traffic flow.

Are you partnering with nonprofits to collect reusable or recyclable items?

  • Will they be bringing a truck for people to load in items?
  • Will you have space for the truck in the collection area?
  • If they don’t bring a truck for the whole event, they still may need space to collect and assess items.

Are restrooms available?

Does the location have restrooms for volunteers and attendees to use? If not, order a porta-potty. Plan for where the porta-potty should go on the property. 


A blue dumpster is filled with large items, including trash bags, large boxes, and broken storage containers.

What waste will you accept?

Ask community groups and residents what they have difficulty getting rid of. Attempt to match community needs with what you offer at your event.

What can be accepted

The following items are commonly collected at events:

  • Mattresses and furniture
  • Appliances and electronics
  • Tires* (However, there is an extra charge for tires.)
  • Onsite, secure paper shredding
  • Large stumps or other yard waste that don't fit in their green bin

What’s allowed in a trash dumpster

  • Appliances – unless they contain Freon (refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners)
  • Furniture
  • Mattresses
  • Wood (including treated or painted wood)
  • Plastic (large items or other plastic that cannot be recycled at home)
  • Yard waste (large stumps or branches that cannot be composted at home)
  • Metal* (Encourage residents to recycle at home)
  • Cardboard* (Encourage residents to recycle at home)

*Tires, metal, and cardboard will likely get pulled out and recycled when the dumpsters are emptied at a Metro transfer station. You will be charged extra for the tires that are pulled out – so consider whether you have enough flexibility in funds to cover those costs (see current prices).

What NOT to accept

Never accept hazardous materials. Collection and transportation of hazardous items require special training and equipment. Examples of common hazardous waste include:

  • Batteries, paint, chemicals, CFL light bulbs.
  • Refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners (contain Freon)
  • Construction, demolition and remodeling debris, e.g., roofing and asbestos*-containing materials.

*Never accept items that may contain asbestos. Asbestos is often found in home repair or renovation waste. If an attendee brings construction debris, check the suspect material list (below) to see if they need to have any items tested for asbestos before they take them to a Metro transfer station. Examples of high-risk materials suspected of containing asbestos:

  • Flooring: vinyl tiles, vinyl sheet, cove base.
  • Walls: plaster, decorative plaster, textured surfaces on drywall.
  • Siding: cement siding shingles “Transite”, stucco.
  • Insulation: spray-applied, blown-in, vermiculite, pipe, HVAC and lagging.
  • Ceilings: acoustical tiles, “popcorn” and spray-on texture.
  • Electrical: wire insulation, panel partitions.
  • Other: mastic, window glazing, fire doors, fire brick, fire proofing.
  • See a full list of items that contain asbestos.

Reuse and Recycling

If you can collect items for recycling, reuse, or donation that’s great! However, it will take additional time and effort. If you don’t have enough time or volunteers, you may be able to hire a junk hauler that incorporates reuse and recycling in their regular service. Contact Metro’s Recycling Information Center for advice: 503-234-3000 or www.oregonmetro.gov/ask-metro

A table with a sign labeled "Electronics" sits next to a large Habitat for Humanity ReStore truck.

Recycling

Many community members appreciate events where they can drop-off items that can’t be recycled in Portland’s curbside recycling: like mattresses, tires, electronics, TVs, appliances, and large metal items.

You may be able to partner with a local recycling company to pick up items from your event. Contact Metro’s Recycling Information Center to ask for recommendations: Call 503-234-3000, submit a question, or use the Find a Recycler search tool. Ask the recycling company if they charge a fee for bringing a truck out and if they have minimum or maximum quantities they’ll take at an event.

Reuse and donation

Collecting reusable items instead of sending them to the landfill is the best environmental choice – and you’ll save and donate some great stuff! However, it will take additional preparation, space, and volunteers so it’s important to plan ahead.

Reach out to local reuse organizations. Ask what they are accepting or not accepting at this time. Accepted items change with supply and demand, so make sure to ask while planning and again right before your event.

Make sure you have a plan for where items can be donated, at the end of the event:

  • Look very carefully at the type and condition of items that local non-profits will accept.
  • Make a plan before the event to have someone with a truck or van be ready to drive items to the donation organizations.
  • Be prepared for some items not to be accepted by non-profits – and how to dispose of those items.

Make a yes/no list

Make a list of items people CAN bring to the event. This should be based on the items your community wants to get rid of and whether you have the space to collect the items and a plan for how to dispose, recycle, or donate them.

Make a list of items people CANNOT bring to the event. This includes prohibited items, like hazardous waste as well as items that you do not have space or ability to dispose, recycle, or donate.

Use this yes/no list when you promote your event so people know what they can and can’t bring. Train your team of volunteers using this list: Take time to go over each item on the list of accepted and not accepted items.

Be prepared for people to arrive with items you cannot accept. Inform volunteers who are helping people unload waste to explain why certain items are not allowed. It’s also helpful to make a print a list of where people can dispose, recycle, or donate items that you cannot accept.

Contact us for template yes/no lists


What will it cost to run your event?

Make a list of things you’ll need, and then figure out which (if any) you could ask businesses or the community to donate, and which you will need to purchase. 

Paying for dumpsters

The large dumpsters used at community waste collection events are called drop boxes. You can hire any garbage company or drop box company that’s permitted to collect waste in Portland.

On average, each household brings 1-1.5 cubic yards of material. So, a 30-yard drop box will serve 20-30 households.

We recommend calling a few companies to compare costs. Make sure they know your event date and ask when they can deliver the containers and when they can pick them up.

Find a garbage company

What will you charge attendees?

Some events charge fees for households to drop off waste. If you do charge a fee, consider whether you will charge a set fee per household or vehicle, a fee based on the quantity of waste being dropped off, or a sliding-scale fee.

Consider a “NOTAFLOF” policy – No one turned away for lack of funds.

*If you’re receiving funding from Metro or the City for your event, check with them on whether or not you’re allowed to charge fees.

Funding assistance

Funding may be available from Metro or the City of Portland for different elements of your project.

Metro provides low-barrier funding for disposal and other eligible project expenses through their Regional Refresh Program. Eligible projects can receive direct funds up to $5,000 for pre-approved expenses. Note: If you are outside of the Metro equity focus area, please apply anyway for this funding. You will receive additional information and assistance upon applying.

Contact us for budget templates


A group of volunteers all wearing orange safety vests stand in front of two large yellow dumpsters.

Partners and volunteers

Partners

Can you partner with a nearby neighborhood group or community-based group? 

This can increase the number of volunteers and attendees, and reduce the time, energy, and money it takes to plan and run your event. Partners could help plan the event, recruit volunteers, and assist on the day of the event.

  • Establish a list of potential partners and reach out to them.
  • Include partners in planning and ask for feedback.

Volunteers and event staff

You’ll need lots of people to make your event a success!  

If your organization can dedicate one or more paid staff to lead the event planning and be onsite at the event, that’s ideal. Paying volunteers is also recommended if you’re able.  

Volunteer roles might include:

  • Directing traffic in and out of the event space: 1-3 people.
  • Directing attendees to the right waste station for the items they’ve brought (garbage, recycling, donation): 1-3 people.
  • Helping people unload their cars and safely move large items into drop boxes: 4-6 people.
  • Taking payments (if you’re charging fees).
  • Standing at each waste “station” (garbage, electronics, donation/reuse, etc.) to confirm the waste people are dropping off is in the right place or if it needs to go elsewhere (e.g. is a mattress or chair in good enough condition to donate or should it go in the garbage?): 1 or more people per station.

Train volunteers

Before the event day, share the different roles you’ll need filled and ask volunteers to choose what they want to do. Having one or two volunteers that don’t have assigned roles but can fill in as needed is helpful.

  • Send information to volunteers in advance about their role and anything they need to bring with them (water bottle, coffee mug, gloves, sturdy close-toed shoes).
  • Plan time before the event starts to train volunteers so they know what they’re doing and who to ask for help.
  • Make sure people know how to handle and move items safely.
  • We encourage volunteers to wear safety vests for visibility, and work gloves when handling materials.

Get help from a Master Recycler

Contact the Master Recycler program to request a Master Recycler to train your volunteers about how to sort the waste people are bringing in, and what’s reusable versus garbage or recycling. Contact them as far in advance as possible: Master Recyclers are volunteers themselves and it takes time to find someone who is available on your event day.

Support volunteers

  • Provide water, hand washing stations (or hand sanitizer), and snacks for volunteers.
  • If it is rainy or very hot and sunny, set up a canopy or undercover area with chairs for volunteer breaks.
  • If the event starts early, consider offering grab-and-go breakfast foods and beverages like coffee and tea.
  • If the event runs through midday, provide food for lunch.
  • Schedule breaks so volunteers stop to rest and drink water or grab a snack.
  • Make sure someone is available to answer questions from volunteers, so they never feel lost or alone.
  • The City recommends compensation for volunteers’ valuable time – can you provide stipends for volunteer time? Childcare as needed? 

Liability waivers

It is recommended that you create liability waivers to protect your organization, partners, participants, and volunteers. BPS does not have templates for volunteer waivers.


Marketing your event

You’ll want to get the word out to as many people as possible in your neighborhood – but be careful not to advertise citywide, or you might end up overwhelmed by people coming from all over the city.

Contact your neighborhood association, neighborhood coalition, and other community-building organizations and ask if they can help promote the event.

Advertise in neighborhood newspapers, newsletters, websites or online social groups like Facebook or Nextdoor.

Print fliers to hang on community boards, like at your local coffee shop, church, or grocery store. Or hand out at local events, like farmers markets.

Word-of-mouth: tell your friends and neighbors and encourage them to spread the word.

Let us know so we can help promote the event!

Contact us for template marketing materials


Two volunteers in safety vests speak with an event attendee pulling up in a car.

Event planning timeline

Below is a template event planning timeline, based on many previous community-led events.

First: Choose a (rough) date

Late spring through early fall is best to avoid a rainy event day. If you think a spring date would be ideal, aim to start recruiting a planning committee in the fall.

3 to 6 months before event: Create a team

Organize a committee of engaged volunteers and partner organizations.

  • Contact your neighborhood district office to see if they can help or connect you with other neighborhood contacts for a joint event or for advice based on past events.
  • Contact the Master Recycler program to see if a Master Recycler volunteer is available and interested in joining your planning committee.

Review this Guide together, as a committee.  

Choose and confirm a date and location.

Create a project plan and timeline for the event. 

1 to 3 months before event: Plan the event

Coordinate participating organizations 

Are you working with Metro, recycling companies, or reuse-focused nonprofit organizations?

  • Review roles and responsibilities with participating organizations. 
  • Visit the site to review traffic flow and site specifics. 
  • Coordinate outreach with participating organizations. Ask partner organizations for their logos and organization descriptions to include in your marketing materials.

Volunteers  

Identify a volunteer coordinator. Decide the ideal number of volunteers needed. 

Outline volunteer positions and roles. Clear and transparent information for volunteer roles will help your volunteers to be more willing to try new roles and to be confident when they arrive. 

Recruit volunteers. 

Arrange for coffee, snacks, and/or lunch for volunteers. Consider asking local businesses for donations of food or beverages.

1 to 2 weeks before event: Prepare for event day

Confirm participating organizations, reuse, recycling, and garbage haulers, and reuse volunteers – do they have everything they need to participate? 

Finalize volunteer training overview, roles, and tasks. 

Arrange for orange vests and hand-held flags for volunteers handling traffic control and to direct vehicles. Check with your neighborhood district office or the community organizations you’re partnering with to see if they have these to lend you.

Create signs that will be used the day of the event to direct vehicles to the reuse, recycling, and hauling areas. Signs can also let residents know what organizations are collecting items for reuse. 

Prepare event kit

Signs

  • Enter and Exit signs
  • Labels for different waste areas: Landfill, mattress, reuse, etc.
  • Volunteer check-in area

Printed information

  • Event timeline and contact numbers for volunteers
  • List of accepted/unaccepted items for volunteers
  • Fliers for other disposal options to hand to event attendees (ask us for an example flier)

Other items:

  • Safety Cones
  • Safety vests and gloves for volunteers
  • Chairs for volunteers when they need a break
  • Canopy to protect against sun or rain
  • Water bottles
  • Duct tape
  • Name tags
  • Clipboards and pens

Event Day

Set up

Drop box delivery

  • A designated event volunteer should arrive early so they can show the Drop Box company where to place the drop box(es).
  • Drop box containers cannot be placed under powerlines.
  • Keep everyone away from the container while it is being delivered or picked up. Wear a safety vest.
  • If using a porta-potty, have it delivered the morning of the event. 

Safely load drop boxes

  • Only place acceptable items in the container.
  • Load the container evenly. Avoid precarious piles that may fall over while people are in the drop box. 
  • Do not load materials beyond the container weight limits.
  • Always wear gloves when loading drop box containers. And construction helmets if possible. 
  • Keep children away from drop box containers.
  • Do not allow anyone to throw items over the side of the drop box while the doors are open, there may be a person inside the drop box. 

Bring Event Kit (see above)  

Provide snacks and water for volunteers.

Welcome volunteers and partners as they arrive – give volunteers plenty of instruction so they know where to be and what to do, and how to take breaks as needed. 

  • Go over the yes/no list so that they can help inform attendees about the reuse collection area. 
  • Confirm traffic flow and safety with volunteers.

Ensure any items scheduled for delivery have arrived – for example porta-potties and drop-boxes. 

Set up signs directing cars towards the event.

Set up an information table for educational materials, snacks, and resources like organization information (postcards, flyers, news, other).  

Designate volunteers to:

  • Count the number of volunteers.  
  • Count number of households that drop off materials.  
  • Track the materials for the Summary Checklist.   

If possible, designate someone to ask households how they heard of the event, and how far they had traveled. 

At the end of the event

Cleanup the event location – leave it better than you found it.  

Thank volunteers and partners for their contribution and hand out any “thank you” items like stipends or gifts. 

Have volunteers and partner organizations spend a moment to share their favorite part of the day, as a group.  

Ensure all items that were delivered have been picked up as scheduled – for example porta-potties and drop-boxes. 

Take a deep breath and celebrate – you did it! You supported your community in learning, growing, and cleaning, and have left behind a healthier neighborhood. 

A volunteer points to a handwritten sign saying "Full" taped to a large dumpster.

1 to 3 weeks after event

Compile and send Thank You notes and/or emails to volunteers, donors, partners, and participants.

Debrief with the committee and any other appropriate stakeholders: 

  • What went well? 
  • What could be better next time? 
  • When should we do another? 

Complete any final wrap-up and necessary reports for funders.