July 10 - Every-Other-Week Trash Pickup Produces Drastic Results for Portland

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According to the Wall Street Journal, cities across America are looking to Portland for solutions to their waste management issues. In late November of last year Portland began mandatory biweekly trash pickup combined, with weekly collection of food and yard trimmings.

So far, recycling officials in Oregon have seen fantastic results. As landfills are reaching their brim and food waste grows more rampant cities are looking for ways to cut their cost as well as their carbon footprint.

In the first quarter of 2012, Portland sent 10,000 fewer tons of garbage to the landfill compared to the same period last year, a 44% drop. Cities including San Antonio, Santa Fe, NM and Marin County in California have all shown interest in every-other-week garbag pickup.

A quick look at the numbers and it’s no wonder why Portland's recycling officials are happy with the results. Since 2011 the pickup composition in Portland has gone from about 60% unsorted landfill waste to only 31.4%. Compost rates have soared too! Prior to the biweekly pickup only about 11.2% of waste was separated for compost but this year residents of Portland composted 35.7% of their waste, three times the amount of growth recycling officials predicted.

The city also started a phone line for folks confused about compostabillity or how to manage food odor. Food waste and yard trimmings collected by the weekly organics pickup benefits local farms.

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, run by San Francisco-based Recology, in the suburbs. 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.

But residents didn’t adapt to the new program right away. Initially, people were not adjusted to sorting their trash and most dealt with the two week accumulation by paying extra for larger unsorted waste bins. However, after half a year of the new pickup schedule, recycling and food waste sorting has gotten so efficient that Mike Perkins of Heiberg Garbage & Recycling notes many of those supersized garbage bins were returned in exchange for more compact ones.


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