From trash to treasure, then back to trash

Every summer, thousands of University of Oregon students pack up their stuff and leave Eugene. Some students may return in September to continue their education while others graduate and move on entirely. International students often board planes, taking with them only what they can carry. Left behind in dumpsters and …

Lane County is littered with garbage from dumping on public lands, making it difficult for people to enjoy the outdoor spaces that are offered in the area. The Waste Management Division’s Nuisance Abatement Program has cleaned over 1 million pounds of waste around Lane County since 2006. 

Mismanagement of waste is not only detrimental to public land appearance, it also takes a massive toll on the ecology, biology, and environment in the area. The EPA website said that excess debris  “harms physical habitats, transports chemical pollutants, threatens aquatic life, and interferes with human uses of river, marine and coastal environments.” 

Locally, the Bureau of Land Management has been working to clean up some of the waste left on public land. Colin Sayre, forest technician at the BLM, said that the outer west edge of town is most common for discarding unwanted rubbish. 

“It’s a really easy spot for people to go out and just dump,” said Sayre. The contents of the garbage often “ranges from furniture to ‘run of the mill’ bags of trash.”

The BLM manages its forests for recreation, wildlife and more. It has engaged with several clean ups around the area, focusing in on larger projects such as the West Eugene Wetlands and the Fall Creek watershed, according to its website. 

Sayre said that a majority of the garbage often comes from local people who want to save money on trash disposal and homeless individuals across Lane County. “We have a lot of homeless campers that leave a lot of their belongings,” he said. “When all of these individuals are told to move on, they leave a lot of their stuff behind.” 

Out of the 14,476 people in Oregon that are experiencing homelessness in 2019, over 2,165 of those people reside in Lane County, according to the Health and Human Services website. The increase in homeless people often results in excess waste that ends up on public land. 

Jan Robbins, Assistant Field Manager, said that one of the biggest challenges of the job is preserving the land and keeping up with maintenance. 

“The important thing is that we stay on top of it. If we don’t stay on top of it, the problem will get exponentially worse,” she said. “Maintenance is hard, costly, and it takes a lot of resources, but it takes less resources than if we lose an area then have to go back and try to reclaim it.” 

Volunteer groups and staff members often go out to collect the extra trash on organized excursions, said Robbins. Occasionally, law enforcement will make the person who dumped pick the garbage back up. 

To help the cause of illegal dumping, the BLM urges people to call their local number or use their website to report where, who, and what exactly was found. However, it discourages locals from picking anything up for safety reasons.

“We encourage people not to clean up a whole lot of trash because of the needles or advantageous materials that could be out there,” said Robbins. “It’s a safety factor.”  

Going forward, the BLM plans to renovate public lands into useful and fun public spaces for locals to enjoy. 

“We have areas out there where we’re trying to encourage legal activities to try to mitigate people attempting to dump trash,” said Robbins. “That’s the reason why we built the disc golf course, so that we could have more positive opportunities for the public on their lands.”