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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The new Portland garbage deal

It's garbage and recycling pickup morning on our block, and coincidentally, there's an interesting piece in the O about impending changes to solid waste disposal practices in Portland. According to the story, the ubiquitous yellow bins in which we do curbside recycling are scheduled to disappear, to be replaced by large rolling carts. Under the new system, the need to separate types of recycling would be minimized, and at least one new category of plastic would be added to the list of those suitable for recycling. On the downside, recycling would become mandatory; the monthly bill for garbage pickup would go up by a few dollars to cover the costs of the changes; and there's talk of making garbage pickup a biweekly, rather than a weekly, affair.

The official executive summary of what the city is thinking about is (pdf) here. A much longer version of the proposals is here.

We're fairly religious about recycling at our place, and so mechanically, not a lot would change for us on account of the proposed new features. Some plastic things, which we currently schlep to the nearby Wild Oats store, could go out to the curb on Monday nights instead. Today's article says that "yogurt containers" will become curbside-recyclable; by this I assume they mean no. 5 plastic tubs. Great. The other thing we take to Wild Oats every couple of months is our collection of no. 2 plastic bags -- it would be nice if our garbage hauler could recycle those for us as well. Any plastic item with a neck for a twist-cap already already gets recycled at our curb, and of course the plastic water bottles lying in that particular bin these days are soon going back to the store for a deposit, anyway.

The O story emphasizes that under the new system, there would be less need for the consumer to separate out various types of recyclables. That's a surprising assertion, because under the current Portland system, very little separation is required. Assuming we're not talking about used motor oil here, the only separation required right now is that paper items (a broad category) go in one bin, glass in another, and everything else that's recyclable in a third. Under the new system, glass will still have to be separated, and so all that would be eliminated is separating paper from everything else -- to me, a minimal inconvenience.

Ah, but the roll carts would be a wonderful touch. I'd love to have one large covered bin outside into which we could throw all the recycling stuff (except for the glass). As it stands now, we keep everything recyclable inside until the night before garbage day, because otherwise it gets miserably wet, attracts pests, or both. If it could all go promptly outside into one big barrelful as soon as it's outlived its usefulness, that would make life easier. And the 65-gallon capacity they're talking about is a pretty big recycling bin.

There's also talk of having yard debris picked up every week, instead of every other week as is done currently. That one also surprises me. We have a fairly typical Portland yard, and even in peak gardening season, we generate only about 40 to 50 gallons of yard debris a week. We have a 90-gallon big rolling cart that takes care of our needs quite well on an every-other-week schedule. Once all the leaves are picked up in the fall, we generate very little by way of yard debris until spring, and during that time, we could get by with a pickup of, say, once every three weeks, or even once a month. And of course, all that junky infill housing we're letting the developers build in Portland has very little by way of a yard, and so I would think the volume of yard debris in these parts is going down, not up.

But they're also talking about eventually picking up food scraps and food-soiled paper separately from ordinary garbage as well, and this would apparently be done at the same time and in the same bin as the yard debris (ick!). Now, at our house, most unused vegetable matter is currently composted with the help of a large colony of hungry redworms that occupies our composting bin. Only meat and grains wind up in the garbage. I can't imagine that separating the food scraps from everything else is going to be much fun, and it could make for a logjam under the kitchen sink. We're not going to carry each plate out to the yard debris bin to scrape it off after a meal, that's for sure.

Anyway, I don't know why I'm so fascinated with this topic, but I am. In a prior life, I think I must have been a garbage collector. Speaking of which, have you read about this guy yet?

Comments (25)

Does recycling really save anything? (Except for metals)

Who has the data?


The composting makes great fertilizer. I think the paper gets a pretty good workout the second time around. And if the stuff really gets reworked, it saves a lot of landfill life.

In a prior life, I think I must have been a garbage collector.

When I was a kid, I thought getting to ride on the back of the garbage truck looked like a totally great job. Jump on, jump off. Throw cans around. Very cool.

What seems really weird about the move toward less separation is I've been to a recycling center where they do this...it's really, really hard nasty work. Why make it harder? It's not like the materials don't have to be seperated at some point...why not at the source?

We have a small metal waste container for putting food scraps in inside, and it comes with a filter, so it never gets stinky or too terribly gross.

This biweekly pickup thing has a global tone to it. I just returned from London, where the hot topic for debate (some quite vicious) is the change from weekly to biweekly pickup of trash and recycling. This is NOT a popular change proposed for the UK. We down in Lake Oswego have had comingled recycling for about two years now and it is terrific. The only downside is that glass still must be separately recycled. I'm not sure we could make it on biweekly recycling. Our barrel is filled each week - the consequence, partly, of all the newspapers that come to our house. I just can't feel the same about reading an electronic version of the NYT or WSJ. On the other hand, I'd probably get as much enjoyment out of the Swahili version of the Whoregonian as I do out of the free copy they deliver daily at my house. Talk about one totally useless newspaper. It joins the Seattle Times as the most content free paper on the West Coast.

pick it all up

recyclables, including ALL plastics - you separate it
yard debris
electronic equipment and old appliances - don't make me drive all over creation and waste gas and time

send me a bill

We used to recycle. We produced so little waste that our garbage can only needed to be picked up every three months or so. We put it out at the street when necessary, with a payment envelope taped to the top. Then then city of Portland took away our recycling bins, saying that we could only have recycling bins if we had monthly can service. We didn't need monthly can service, because we were such recycling champs.

We stopped recycling after that. Now we have an even bigger garbage can...the kind with its own set of wheels. Everything goes into it.

"Does recycling really save anything? (Except for metals)"

I recently heard a radio story (probably on OPB in the last two weeks) about a prison where starting a composting program saved them millions of dollars. The food scraps used to go into the garbage disposal, which fed into the prison's sewage treatment plant, which was slated for a major overhaul because it was near capacity and was the major factor limiting expansion of the prison. By diverting the food scraps to compost instead of down the disposal, they took so much load off the sewage treatment plant that they ended up being able to expand the prison while cancelling the already planned sewage treatment plant expansion. Ca-ching!

Presumably the same effect could be made to happen on a citywide scale, although the public compliance would probably be somewhat less than in a prison. :-)

Anyway, blue-bin mixed recycling is the way it works in Salem. Garbage and yard debris are picked up every week, recycling every other week. It's so easy that we completely delegated recycling to our kid when he was seven and he's kept it up ever since.

My renter in Sherwood, and all others, have three large rolling carts.

One for garbage, one for recycle and one for yard debris.

It's quite the visual pollution on the side of every house.

IMO it's ridiculous and I suspect it is the result of the garbage hauler lobbying to get the system that best suits their ease of collection. Every contained can now be picked up and dumped by the truck arm with the solo driver never leaving his truck.

Personally I say the whole recyle thing is as overblown, (false) as Portland's CO2 emissions reductions and global warming caused by humans.
But that's just this denier.

Kinda reminds me of this.

Well Jack we have managed to have a compost bin filled right up until this week when we will only have a bundle of tree limbs for collection! We grow vegetables and do a lot of composting but even so we haven't managed to compost everything. We are experimenting with not picking up the grass clippings this year!

My personal opinion is that there should be more options for the public regarding garbage service. Our small family (2) could do away with the garbage can entirely with more recyclable items. Or, at least let us have one garbage can collection per month and keep the weekly or bi-weekly recycling the same. It would also help everyone if the stores would do their bit by not having so much packaging. Look at fruit in Costco, now packed in plastic! What happened to a cardboard box? Looks better in shiny plastic I guess. Get rid of the ghastly plastic bags too. We shop at Bi-Mart for a lot of "one item" shopping and always refuse a bag, keeping the receipt handy.

Some parts of London have a small box for food waste with tight fitting lid and this is a very popular service. Also they are collecting garden waste in hesian sacks which they empty into the truck and leave the sack to be refilled.

Re:IMO it's ridiculous and I suspect it is the result of the garbage hauler lobbying to get the system that best suits their ease of collection. Every contained can now be picked up and dumped by the truck arm with the solo driver never leaving his truck.

I think the reason for this is double fold.
1. it saves on payroll costs and
2. it saves employees from injuries hefting those heavy metal cans.
Which should keep the costs to us down.

We have "on-call" service from Waste Management, meaning they pick up the garbage and recycling only when I call to ask (it takes us four to six weeks to fill a garbage can). They don't require the recycling to be in the yellow bins - we use the garbage cans that are no longer needed for trash. We do end up with lots of recycling piled up - we take it to the depot in Lake Oswego if it gets overwhelming before the garbage can is full. I just called WM - they will pick up recycling only (no garbage) for $6.05 per pickup. No limit on amount per recycling pickup that we've run across.

Call and ask your garbage hauler - they may have plans/options that suit your needs already.

I second Amanda's last point. Driving junk anywhere when a truck is already going right past seems like waste mismanagement.

I've been advocating for mandatory use of recycling rollcarts in Troutdale due to the wind problems in the winter. Curbys just don't work out here.

We had a "perfect storm" of garbage in January. I drove around our neighborhoods for just one hour on garbage day and took pictures. You can see them here: http://troutdale.blogspot.com/2007/01/troutdale-garbage-day-pictorial-jan-24.html

We need both garbage and recycling rollcarts with attached lids. It won't solve all the problems associated with high winds and garbage, but should mitigate most of the loose trash problems.

Most folks including me are tired of picking up empty pizza boxes, used tampons and diapers, tin cans, and other disgusting objects from their yards each week.

This mess occurs weekly on garbage day during our windy season. Mostly because of unsecured recycling. City staff is now working on some proposals.

empty pizza boxes, used tampons and diapers, tin cans,

Of those items, only tin cans are recyclable. The other items should already be in a covered garbage can.

Very true. I gave those examples because many folks have written me about picking up those things from their yards. However, the blown trash problem comes from both recycling and garbage cans.

Troutdale still allows garbage cans without attached lids. And amazingly, even though it's not allowed, quite a few folks just set out a plastic hefty bag, which gives Troutdale's raccoon/dog/cat/bird population quite the treasure trove. You have to see it to believe it. If the animals don't get them, the wind pushes those bags into the middle of the street or someone elses yard.

Those round garbage cans without attached lids nearly alway blow over, the lid sails off, and even secured garbage sails down streets. That's why attached lids for both recycling and garbage rollcarts should be required here.

Attached lids are a good thing. We just retired an ailing 32-gallon can, replacing it with a new one with wheels, and handles that clip the lid into place.

One of our yellow recycling bins is on its last legs. I wonder if it will make it to the switchover to the new blue rolling units.

Heck, it generally takes us a couple of weeks (family of 3) to fill a 20-gallon garbage can. Vegetable matter, such as leftover salad, coffee grounds, and The Oregonian go into the compost bins along with leaves. Cans, plastic botlles, and glass go into the yellow bins, which need to be taken out to the street every 2-3 weeks.Some 12 years ago, I tied a rope to one of the yellow bins, sat my daughter in there, and dragged her around up and downhill through the snow. She's 15 now, and the bin shows no sign of age.

How many gallons of fuel are burned per month by the dozens and dozens of recycling trucks ? How much energy is used by the depos that sort all of the recycled stuff ?

What is the net loss or gain here, when taking into account the energy used to produce cans, bottles, and cardboard ?

Anyone have hard data on this ?

On a side note, what's up with the can zombies who climbed over a tall fence into my yard over and over again to steal the cans I tried to save and sell ? It's ridiculous when you have to lock cans up inside your house, along with your lawnmower and anything else of value...these guys even stole the barrel the cans were in as well as my yellow recycling tubs a few times in order to cart my stolen cans off to Safeway.

most recyclable waste is returned to the manufacturing stream for reuse in other products. this is a profit center the recyclers and a savings for those buying the materials. also, they're a way to buy food for the people "stealing" your cans & bottles out of the bin.

public policy got recycling started on a large scale, but WM, Sunshine and other haulers aren't doing it because there's a policy--they're doing it because it's profitable. recycling existed in manufacturing long before yellow bins.

so, whether or not it's the right thing to do may actually be moot. it's profitable.

I don't like the price going up if they are going to change from weekly to bi-weekly, even if they are going to "improve" the system.

There is something about going bi-weekly that seems unsanitary. I also wonder if bi-weekly service is enough for some people.

Hey, I resent those quotes around stealing there. I was forced by Oregon law to pay for the deposit on those cans out of my own pocket, you collectivist, you, they are mine. They are mine to return to the store for the deposit I paid on them to begin with. I don't make a lot of money, I rent the crumbling house I live in, I buy clothing at Value Village, I've been dumpster diving for almost as long as many of the leftists demonstrating downtown today have been alive...and every penny counts, including can depost money. If the maniacs in charge of our state up the deposit, I'll just brew my own beer and iced tea, and dispense with cans altogether. Hell, I should just do that anyway, on general principle.

It is my right to lock what I've paid for behind a fence or door, no matter how you feel about it. You must think I'm a pretty sick person to want to get my money back on cans. I think you must have come from a very different place than the one I'm from.

When someone climbs over the fence I put up to take things I have paid for without asking, a fence with a large sign on it telling people "No Scavenging," it is stealing no matter how you try to twist the argument.

easy there, "cabbie". i wasn't picking on you or talking about anything other than the bin on the curb. we are talking about curbside recycling, right?

i put it in quotes because calling it "stealing" when somebody swipes used cans out of my yellow curbside bin feels a bit extreme. i threw them away, after all.

Naw, I was talking about the cans that used to sit in a barrel in my yard, in the corner, not visible from the street. Whatever I set out by the curb is up for grabs. In fact, I quit hauling things like broken appliances and old futons to the dump in the dry months...just set 'em by the curb and let the other scavengers take 'em, which they do up by 15th/Dekum in record time.

Scavengers are not the problem, it's the ones who break into my yard over and over that got me so irked.

Now that I really think about this, why don't more people who are so concerned with recycling everything just buy foods in bulk re-usable containers, and dispense with all that packaging, period ?

Yeah, I think I'm gonna brew lots of iced tea this summer, and quit buying the cans...and brew some beer in the old glass carboy, too.

if you leave the first batch of beer out on the curb, let me know...

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