Syringe disposal options increase across East, North Portland

April 17, 2018

Erin Brown, a Health Department employee, demonstrates how to discard syringes safely.

Multnomah County, together with the City of Portland, Metro, TriMet and the Portland Business Alliance, announced this week the planned installation of six new syringe disposal drop boxes in neighborhoods citywide. The effort, in neighborhoods ranging from Lents to St. Johns, builds on a pilot disposal project launched in 2016 by Multnomah County and the City of Portland, which included installing two secure disposal drop boxes on the downtown paths lining the Willamette River.

“We’re thrilled to expand this partnership that keeps our community clean,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “Expanding safe syringe disposal sites will help us address this issue while we work with our partners to fight the underlying epidemic of addiction and provide people more support for recovery."

Injection drug use has increased sharply as part of an overall rise in opioid use, health officials say, with more syringes being discarded in public places. And it’s illegal in Oregon to throw syringes in the trash. The proposed locations included in the first phase of expansion were identified after meetings with community groups and reviewing data on dump site locations and complaints. Local health staff met with neighborhood associations and community members to identify expansion sites.

As secure waste drop boxes are installed beginning this spring, agency partners will continue gathering feedback from residents and community groups to determine where additional disposal drop boxes might go.

“We need multiple, convenient, safe places for concerned people to get rid of this waste,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis. “Together local governments have a collective responsibility to manage this problem. We want to make it easy for civic-minded people to help clean their neighborhoods.”

The first-phase expansion will include 24-hour syringe disposal drop boxes installed at:

The Multnomah County Bridge Shop, in inner southeast

Fire Station 11, in the Lents neighborhood

Fire Station 22, in the St. Johns neighborhood

"This isn’t going to solve the opioid epidemic — but it is essential to provide safe disposal options. Fire stations are safe places where anyone can get help no matter who they are,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “Whether it is an individual struggling with addiction or a community group leading a Saturday cleanup, we want everyone to feel like they can get rid of this waste in a place that feels safe and welcoming."

Syringe disposal drop boxes will also be placed in downtown Portland and near popular public areas.

Existing free 24-hour disposal drop boxes are installed on the west-side walkway below the Burnside Bridge and below the west approach to the Steel Bridge. In addition to 24-hour and bulk disposal, many Multnomah County library branches and Portland parks have installed small sharps containers in public bathrooms for individual syringe disposal. Syringe disposal drop boxes are not intended for commercial biomedical waste.

Metro, the government authority that oversees the regional solid waste system, operates two transfer stations where residents can dispose of used and discarded syringes, among other hazardous waste, in northwest Portland and Oregon City. Metro offers a container exchange program for residents and households in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties. Residents can enroll for $5 and receive a new sharps container at no cost each time they bring a full container back for disposal.

Metro also operates the regional illegal dumping program that investigates and cleans up debris on public property. Stephanie Rawson, who runs the program, said her crew recently picked up more than 1,500 syringes in three days during a clean-up of Sullivan’s Gulch, along Interstate 84.

“We want to make sure these items are managed appropriately, that the way they’re disposed of doesn’t pose a risk to the public, to wildlife, or those working in waste disposal,” Rawson said.

A Lents Neighborhood Association survey found that those in favor of syringe drop boxes preferred fire stations as a location.

Members of another nearby group, the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association organize weekly syringe pick-ups and call on Metro or the City of Portland to pick up the waste. They also take bulk syringes to a Metro transfer station 10 miles south in Oregon City.

Char Pennie, treasurer of the association, said they look forward to having a drop box nearby.

“For us it would be great. We’d have somewhere locally to get rid of the used needles,” she said. “Having one centrally location would be awesome.”

Community members said they like the idea of installing drop boxes at fire stations, which are well-lit and staffed 24 hours a day.

“Hosting syringe drop boxes at Portland Fire Stations is right in line with our goal of ensuring that every Portland neighborhood is a safe and healthy place to live, work and play,” said Fire Chief Mike Myers. “We’re excited to partner with the County and other agencies to find a solution for this challenging issue.”

The first phase of expansion is expected to cost about $200,000 including the purchase of disposal drop boxes, waste management and additional staff.

To provide comments or find out more, contact City/County Information at 503-823-4000 or email