This month, the famously eco-conscious city of Portland, Ore., started a new – and controversially stinky – garbage collection program. The city is paring down its traditional garbage collection system in favor of “curbside composting;” compost materials (food scraps, egg shells, etc.) will be picked up weekly, while old-fashioned garbage pickups by the city will be reduced to twice monthly.
According to a glossy brochure delivered by the city to every Portland household, each family will be provided with a depository for uneaten items – from fish bones to eggshells to meat – to be emptied later into the family’s green “yard debris” roll cart. The composting program also welcomes biodegradable options like cardboard pizza boxes, tea bags, coffee filters, paper towels and more. Only non-organic materials go into the blue roll cart provided for the bi-monthly trash pickup.
The City Council decided to mainstream the program after testing it on 2,000 households in Portland. According to a post-trial survey, 80 percent of participants were at least “somewhat satisfied” with the program, although, as some critics point out, only 335 of the 2,000 trial participants actually responded to the survey.
Complaints about the new program have been fast and furious; the city’s hotline receives over 100 calls per day. In an editorial in Oregon Live, small business owner Dave Lister described the plan as “inconvenient, impractical and, frankly, onerous.” Dave’s primary complaint was the stink: “Dirty diapers, medical waste from adult care facilities, soiled paper towels and non-recyclable food packaging will sit in your can for 14 days. That probably won't be too bad this winter, but just wait until August.”
To dispel some of the smellier rumors about the new program, the local Willamette Week interviewed Bruce Walker, solid waste and recycling program manager for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The people of Portland are most confused, he noted in the interview, by the city’s request that theycompost all of their food, including meat, bones and dairy. Even the most compost-conscious citizens have been trained not to include these items in home compost piles because of the risk of dangerous pathogens. However, Walker points out that the new program deposits all compost at a commercial facility that can treat it at a safe temperature.
As for the angry calls to the program’s hotline, Walker says they stem from a concern about reduced garbage collection. But, Walker argues, people will produce less trash with the new program and thus require fewer trash pickups: “We did this in order to save money for individual customers and the city in general, but we also found that customers in the pilot were generating 30 percent less garbage every month, so trash won't need to be collected as frequently as before.”
As for the “ick” factor, Walker has little patience: “We just encourage them to line their pail with newspaper. We also encourage them to get over it.”
In the name of cutting costs and going greener, would you be willing to maintain the kitchen slop bucket and cut back on garbage collection? Weigh in here.