EVERY TWO WEEKS!0>
In a first for any large American municipality, Portland last fall abolished weekly trash pickups, switching to once every two weeks. At the same time, it increased collection of “green” waste—lawn cuttings and other backyard debris mixed in with compostable food scraps—to once a week. By picking up unsorted trash less often, Portland wants to divert waste from landfills and churn this leafy city’s considerable volume of vegetation into compost.
In the first quarter of 2012, Portland collected just under 13,000 tons of residential garbage, down from 23,000 tons during the year-earlier period. Counted in garbage truckloads, that’s 1,800 fewer per quarter, or 25 fewer truckloads daily. Volume to the landfill is down 44%. “It’s just a remarkable decrease,” says Bruce Walker, Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Compost collection is nearly three times what the city expected, he adds. Those are the numbers that excite municipal waste watchers.
Portland is expected to save money over time, because the cost of disposing “green” trash can be as much as $40-per-ton cheaper than processing landfill trash. With their trash collection reduced to every other week, Portland households have had to hone their recycling skills or pay more for bigger garbage cans. That’s because Portland has long operated under what the industry terms a “pay-as-you-throw” plan, charging consumers by volume of waste placed at curbside.
As residents’ recycling has improved, however, many of those jumbo carts have rolled back to the warehouse. Now every week, residents put out a large container that contains their yard waste mixed with food scraps they collect during the week in a smaller, city-issued pail many store under the kitchen sink or on a porch.
Eventually, the mixture of rotting food and garden waste arrives at two Portland collection centers. From the transit centers, the green waste goes to a composting yard. There it bakes under tarps as what site manager Jon Thomas calls “a happy biological community of microbes” turns Portland’s organic waste into a spongy, black loam for local growers.
Diverting kitchen waste to the covered pails proved to be a tricky transition. At first, residents were wary, mainly of odor. Portland opened a phone line to offer advice and fielded nearly 8,000 calls in its first four months. Fliers—in Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese—admonished households to “Include the Food” with yard waste. Nuances emerged: Pizza boxes are compostable (acids in grease and tomato-sauce residue break down cellulose). So are cardboard egg cartons.
“People in the field find that any change generates some push-back,” says Jerry Powell, a Portlander who publishes the trade journal Resource Recycling. “For some 70 year-old who has put out his trash the same way for 50 years, it’s startling.”
Millman, Joel, “Portland Puts New Twist on Trash
Pickup,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2012
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