Some residents have trouble adjusting to service changes
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
A full trash bag sits on Hannah Mwolo’s front porch outside her Northeast Roselawn Street home. Her garbage bin is overflowing on the curb, waiting for the next garbage pick-up.
Three weeks after Portland implemented a food composting program to reduce landfill waste by encouraging people to recycle food scraps, some residents are having problems adjusting to the change.
Though many residents are transitioning just fine and enthused about the environmental benefits, the new program that requires residential households to dump food scraps from a city-provided container into their yard debris roll cart has caused some confusion and grumbling among a fraction of Portlanders.
City officials and garbage haulers are responding to questions about garbage route and schedule changes and compost particulars, but Waste Management worker Sean Penny said the most common complaint was the reversal of garbage and compost pick-up days.
Now, compost is hauled every week, emphasizing the program’s incentive that if people recycle more, they will accumulate less garbage, which has been pushed back to every other week.
“If you do it correctly, you shouldn’t have garbage at all,” said Penny.
Yet larger households or those with infants or children, still produce high volumes of garbage that is not being composted and can’t wait an extra week to be hauled away.
“Large households naturally produce more garbage,” said Edgar Gayheart III, 42, who lives with four other roommates. He said the garbage for his five person household is overflowing, even with recycling.
A day before garbage pick-up, you can count at least one in 10 curbside cans brimming with trash in one northeast Portland neighborhood, or worse, see plastic bags dumped on the sidewalk or on side of the road.
“Every two weeks is not enough,” said Mwolo, a native of Liberia who lives with her three young children and keeps bags packed with trash outside her home. The northeast Portland resident said that because her family does not produce a great deal of food scraps, they cannot fit two weeks of garbage in one can.
“It’s terrible,” said another local resident Dorothy Hart.
“I am used to them picking it up every week,” she said.
As Thanksgiving approaches, leaves are falling like rain and some households worry about extra fees to cover garbage excess.
As few as 15 percent of Portlanders opted to upsize their cans from typical-sized 32 or 35 gallon carts to 60 or more gallons. In a money-tight economy, however, most people can’t afford additional monthly costs.
Jack and Karen Lewis, a retired couple whose household grew from 3 to 6 people within the last year, upsized both garbage and composting bins from 35 gallons to 60 gallon carts. After two weeks of raking and consuming, Jack Lewis, 75, said their cans are full, but it varies depending on the amount of debris.
“I think they should lower the price,” said Johnny Warren, a senior who lives with his wife.
Gayheart said he and his roommates are thinking about canceling garbage altogether.
“We’ll haul our own garbage,” he said.
Though not everyone agrees with the change, Penny hopes that people will give it a try. He says it may take a few months getting used to the composting and new garbage schedule before Portlanders are happy about it.
“It’s a lot of work to change,” said Mary Harris of northeast Portland, “But I’ve just been following the rules, and it’s sinking in.”
Harris resides in a smaller household with just her husband and has no problem with high-volumes of garbage. After separating food scraps, she automatically has less.
Annie Rose Shapero, 29, was cleaning out her car when she noticed that there was no room in the household garbage can she shared with four other roommates and thought, ‘I have to sort this.’
Shapero said even though most of her roommates are conscious recyclers, sometimes after two weeks, it gets really close to overflow.
She said, however, she likes the changes.
“It’s making us all re-think what we use,” Shapero said.
She said she will think twice about what she puts in the garbage and what she buys. Things that come with a lot of packaging may not be the best option for limited space or the environment.
“I’d rather think of it as an incentive to change my habits and reduce waste,” she said.