PDX’ers – how’s that whole compost vs. garbage thing working for you…? 11

I am as environmentally-friendly as the next person.

I am very much into the whole ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra – I save my vegetable scraps and make stock for soup each week, buy and sell back clothes for us all at resale shops instead of buying new, have drastically cut down the amount of waste and/or paper coming into the house, buy in bulk on a regular basis, and try (where possible) to eat fresh, local produce or meat – that I lovingly cook from scratch at least 4x a week, no less.

So you would have thought I’d be completely and totally on board with the City of Portland’s new mandate (supposedly thoroughly vetted via pilot program/surveys/citizen focus groups) to reduce garbage pickups from once per week to every other week. What do we get instead, you wonder? Well, your yard debris bin now also can be used to house the contents of your compost bin – that’s now where food scraps, leftovers, turkey carcasses, etc. now belong – and NOT your garbage bag.

To aid this effort, the city provided these really adorable little compost buckets, so you can take your food scraps outside regularly instead of letting them all fester inside. And oh-so-helpful city employees gave alternate tips to manage the outflow of food scraps (“freeze a bag of compost instead, then recycle the frozen bag on pickup day!”)

But the program’s not going over well, judging from the grumblings I hear about it on Twitter – from the very people you’d think would be enthusiastically on board. Why? In a nutshell: very little common sense was applied.

Think about it:

  • The ratios are all out-of-whack – our garbage can is full after a week and a half; while the green bin is barely 1/8th full each week – even with two households filling it! (Okay, we may have some leaves mixed in with this week’s batch. But what happens after the leaves are all gone…?)
  • Those adorable little buckets? Impractical as hell – even with the specially-purchased biodegradable liners that leak after a single drop of liquid hits the liner. (Coffee grounds? Instant sieve…) I now have another bucket to clean out 2-3 times a week, otherwise the fermentation kicks in in a less than olfactory-pleasing way. Another minus? They’re not locally produced, are they? Nope. And to those who’ve suggested using newspaper as a liner instead – um, I’m not reading/buying newspapers (see that whole ‘reduce/reuse/recycle’ mantra above) – not even to line a compost bin.
  • The larger green bin? Is now a lovely toxic waste breeding ground after a month. The city suggests baking soda, a soap/water rinse, or…more newspapers. (Is this how we keep the newspaper industry afloat, I wonder?)
  • How many families with children have room in their freezer, anyway – much less for bags of rotting compost?

Yes, I’m still using the system – for now. But how many Portlanders have already opted out – choosing instead to just cram more stuff in their now-overflowing trash cans?

Are you on board here with the new mandate to compost your food scraps? Why or why not?

11 thoughts on “PDX’ers – how’s that whole compost vs. garbage thing working for you…?

  • jeff n

    Totally agreed. We already compost in the yard. With two kids, one still in diapers, this plan left us no choice but to pay more for the large roll cart. And theynice warned that more price increases are coming. I swear these jackasses are trying to see if they can turn me republican.

  • Kathleen McDade

    I haven’t had any trouble, except that our garbage and recycling were overflowing after Thanksgiving weekend because both we and our neighbor (we’re in a sort-of-duplex) were cleaning house and stuff.

    I use the FoodDay for liners, as well as the medium sized paper bags from Fred Meyer AND the Bio-Bags if I don’t have anything else. I’m not super-picky about bucket cleanliness. I rinse it out as needed and give it a good cleaning weekly.

    I do agree that the can ratios are probably off for many people. But overall, I like it and am on board.

  • Dawn Foster

    I’m on board, but as a single person, my needs are vastly different from most people. My huge compost rolling bin usually has a handful of food scraps in the bottom, and most weeks I have less than a bag full of garbage, so maybe 1 – 2 small bags of trash every 2 weeks.

    However, as a frequent traveler and one who sometimes makes trips on short notice (like learning today that I need to fly to Seoul *tomorrow*), the every other week garbage is a huge pain. I have to track down a neighbor to take my bins out or my garbage may sit for 3 weeks if I’m not home to take it out on the week that they are collecting it. I’m afraid that missing a week on the compost bin while traveling could get really gross quickly, too.

    I grew up composting, and I’ve developed a deep dislike of compost buckets. Ewwww. So, I’ve been using large reusable plastic bowls with lids (the 6 cup round ones that you can get at Fred Meyer in a 3 or 4 pack for a couple of dollars). After a day or 2, I take it out to the compost roller bin, put the dirty one right into the dishwasher and get a clean one out the next time I have food scraps. Granted this might not work for bigger families, but it’s working well for me given my compost bucket hatred bred from childhood.

  • Dan Blaker

    It has worked out great for my family of four (with daughters aged 3 & 5). For a couple years we’ve been using a stainless steel countertop compost bucket, which goes through the dishwasher after each time we empty it. We had previously kept citrus and meats/fats out of our garden compost, so the new system feels like freedom! (We never really got around to using our compost in the garden before, so we’re happy to get rid of it.) We actually use the small (20 gallon) trash can, and we rarely fill it over 2 weeks, because we save our misc plastics and recycle them at Far West Fibers.

  • Amy Farrell

    I’m glad the city has expanded its composting program, but it hasn’t changed my habits so far, except that I take the yard debris cart to the curb whenever there’s debris in it.

    I think the reason some of us aren’t finding it useful is that we’ve already eliminated most of the relevant items from our waste stream. For example, I never have pizza boxes to dispose of, but if I did I’d be delighted with the new program.

    I’ve been composting at home for as long as I’ve had a yard. The only food waste I’ve left out has been what the cats don’t finish. The first week of the new program, the cats contributed some leavings to the Portland Compost bucket, but we’re talking well under a tablespoon. There didn’t seem to be much point.

    I’ve already decided that if I find myself using the program, I’ll buy a second proper compost bucket like the one I use for home composting — it has a filter for venting without stinking, and can go through the dishwasher for easy cleaning. I’ll probably send the other one back regardless; I don’t need yet item to store.

    My main concern with the program was that two weeks’ worth of kitty litter from my household might put my garbage over the weight limit for my can size. So far, that has not been a problem. On the other hand, obviously removing food waste from my garbage can has not resolved the potential “stink” issue!

  • Eva Schweber

    I have mixed feelings about the program. I really missed being able to compost the wide range of packaging that we were able to compost at CubeSpace, but you can’t put compostable flatware or plastic in the curbside program. There are only a few items that we can now compost that we don’t put in our home compost bin: moldy cheeses, cat puke (ok, figuring that one out was a bit of a coup) and the very occasional meat leftovers David brings home from a restaurant. Certainly not enough to warrant the huge bin. Which means we have a puddle of icky goop sitting at the bottom of our yard debris bin. Yum! .

    Previously, I had really wanted a bimonthly trash pickup because we don’t produce enough trash for a weekly pickup, but the cat litter made it hard to go to a once-a-month pickup. So, like Jeff, we moved up a bin size when we reduced pickup frequency. We tried the once-a-month deal, but it was a challenge to keep up with. We are having some of the same issues with the bimonthly pickup–last week we got home in time to take out the trash, but were too exhausted after a 12 hour drive to do so. This week our trash is full, but we have to wait until next week to put it out. Shouldn’t be a problem though, because the cat litter waste is already in there. And, the fact that we never got around to moving back to a smaller can size.

    As far as the liner goes, for reasons that defy my understanding, we get a copy of the Oregon Law paper in our mailbox, so we have plenty to line both compost bins we keep on our counter (the one for home and for the City).

    I think the success of this program hinges more on folks who weren’t composting before adjusting their behavior, and not those of us who have already minimized our wastestream. I do think there will need to be some adjustments over time to better accommodate the needs of larger households, households with kids and households with aging or ill members who produce more trash, but not the kind of trash that can be composted.

  • Kathleen McDade

    Hey, Eva, I emailed the city about compostable picnicware, and they said that if it’s really compostable material, they CAN compost it, but haulers have been trained to leave the can if they see paper plates, cups, etc. of ANY type. BUT, they said, and I have the email, that if you HIDE them in the can, it should be fine.

  • Jennifer Kveton

    I’m wondering if this program isn’t meant to target more those people who just don’t recycle period. I find it hard to believe living in Portland that there would be anyone like that, but I’m sure they exist. I would guess that if you put more of your “garbage” into the recycle bin (and for that matter the compost/yard debris bin too that it should offset the actual garbage. I am not finding that to be totally the case though. At least not always. And if you’ve always recycled in the past then this really hasn’t changed much of how you throw stuff away now.

    Of course on that note, I have 2 cats and previously I’ve used a clumping litter that you scoop and throw away. I am now in the process of switching them over to a litter that I can scoop and flush down the toilet. I can’t decide if that’s really better for the environment or not. I’m not a fan of the every other week pick up at all. Too much chance to miss it and be stuck with it for a whole month. Not that I’ve missed it in the past, but of course, now it’s bound to happen. 😉 Wouldn’t it be just as effective to issue smaller trash bins and continue to pick up weekly or raise the rates if you want to continue to use a larger bin and have weekly pick up? I don’t know though…can’t really say it’s a hit just yet with most people.

  • Pamela

    The new program has caused a rift in my household, which I wrote about in November on my blog, The But Sandwich. Since then, things have only gotten worse. I keep trying to “do the right thing” only to end up with a wet, mucky bucket. My husband is growing to hate the bucket more and more each day as it doesn’t lend itself well to his “system”.

    And the diapers just keep stacking up.

  • Karl

    Yes im irritated. Bi weekly pickup is a problem if I happen to be out of town on pickup week. My family had already reduced it’s waste down to the smallest can size, and we compost extensively. The change did nothing for me but reduce my service.

    The City should simply tax larger can sizes with higher pricing and offer small can pickup at lower rates. That would reduce the tonnage of garbage. But of course they know what is best for all with no citizen input.

  • Frannie

    Love the new city composting program. We are a family of three who previously composted all of our fruit and vegetable scraps in our own garden, but now, though the new program, we compost meat scraps, paper towels, parchment paper, paper take-out containers–everything. It is intensely gratifying to put a whole skeleton from a roasted chicken in the food scraps bucket and know that the entire thing is going to be composted by the city. We don’t use liners in our city food scraps bucket, and we empty it every night (which takes about 30 seconds to complete, start to finish) then rinse it out (which takes all of 3 seconds to complete).

    To be frank about it, I do not understand how people can find this program to be different from just throwing their waste in a trash can. You just throw your food scraps in a different bin, plain and simple. We haven’t had any trouble at all with the bi-weekly garbage pick up, either. This may not be a popular opinion, but I do not see how the new program can be seen as a hinderance or a problem. The transition for us has been seamless.

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