Sustainability | Ecotrope

The Pros And Cons Of Curbside Composting In Portland

Ecotrope | Sept. 14, 2012 6:39 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:29 p.m.

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How do you feel about Portland's curbside composting program as it nears its one-year anniversary?

How do you feel about Portland's curbside composting program as it nears its one-year anniversary?

Well, Portland. We’ve nearly made it a year with our kitchen compost buckets and curbside bins. What do you think?

OPB’s April Baer did a one-year status report today. To find some voices for her story, she tapped into the station’s Public Insight Network. Boy, did she get an earful.

42 people responded to a query about how they’re using their compost bins, what they like about them, and what they don’t.

Some also included some tips such as using a paper liner bag to keep compost bins clean and storing the food scrap pail in the fridge or freezer to avoid attracting flies.

Here’s a list of the 10 pros and cons I picked up in their replies:

1. Less trash in the landfill

The city of Portland reported a 44 percent drop in the trash being collected from the curb after the food scrap program started. Portland resident Lori Datena reported trash at her house is down, as well:

“We used to completely stuff our small trashcan weekly and now it’s only about 3/4 full every two weeks even though we have always recycled.”

2. Less composting in your own yard

Several respondents said they like having the city do their composting. As Sarah Gilbert said:

“I composted before Portland began the food waste recycling project, but I struggled to keep my compost balanced and turned and actually *composting*. It was sometimes stinky and sometimes a rodent attractor. But, I’m really committed to reducing landfill contents and composting food waste. So the conversion to a city-wide curbside program was a relief.”

3. More yard waste pickups

Bob Eckland was already composting, but he said he likes the weekly yard waste pickup:

“The thing that changed the most for us was weekly yard debris pickup. Our yard is all plants, no grass, so we get a lot of yard waste.”

4. Fewer garbage pickups

While some complain about the switch from weekly to every other week trash pickups, others are happy they can now reduce their trash days to once a month. As Nancy Ledbetter said:

“I have reduced my garbage service to once a month, so I rely on the green and blue bins as much as possible.”

5. It feels good

Just knowing that you’re reducing landfill trash is a pro, according to Ann Sola:

“Originally from New York, I thought recycling was a pain in the neck. Now, I feel good about doing something to reduce garbage and increase compost and good soil. Like any behavior change, it takes a little patience, effort and time.”

6. It includes meat scraps

People who used to do their own composting say it’s nice to have the curbside bin for things they don’t want in their own piles – like bones and meat scraps. As John Burns said:

“Most of my food scraps go in the backyard compost bin for next year’s garden. Meat and grosser stuff goes into the curb-side compost bin.”

7. More space in the yard – if you were composting

As Kate Davenport said she now has some extra space in her yard:

“I have composted for 20 years, but now that the yard debris includes food, and is picked up every week, I have decided to give all my compostables to the city and buy compost once a year when I need it. I am slowly cleaning out my compost area so that I can put in a small greenhouse/shed instead.”

8. A place for greasy pizza boxes!

Kendra Yao said:

“It’s empowering to make less trash, and it doesn’t smell bad anymore, because our food scraps are going out more often. We especially like having a place to put pizza boxes and paper towels with food waste in them!”

9. It raises awareness of trash:

As Lori Datena said:

“The biggest surprise is how aware it has made our family of food waste. We thought we were doing a pretty good job of not wasting food prior to composting and we were shocked at the amounts of food (and therefore money) we were tossing. We have adjusted our habits accordingly.”

10. It’s more sustainable

As Clark and Kacia Brockman said:

“Closing the loops of organic waste will be a critical activity for all urban areas going forward, and Portland’s national reputation as a leader in sustainability will help promote increased uptake of programs nationwide.”

And now the cons:

1. Fewer trash pickups

In many cases, people who like having a curbside bin said they still want weekly trash pickup. As Jennifer put it:

“I WANT MY WEEKLY GARBAGE BACK!!! I’d rather have yard and compost debris every other week than garbage. PLEASE!!!! I can’t imagine how families with more that three people (or with babies and smelly diapers) can manage on twice a month pick up. And I resent having to pay for extra garbage bins when needed because if it was every week I wouldn’t NEED extra bins.”

2. Rats and flies:

Critters are some of the biggest problems people reported with putting food scraps on the curb and having fewer trash pickups. As Perri Combs said:

“Rats have chewed on our garbage bin. We have flies now that we have never had. Its awful. With a family two weeks is too long. I have to think about throwing things away when I am near a public waste can. We have pets and a family.”

And Gwen Barnard reports:

“We ended up with flies in the basement which I had to chase around with a dish towel. They either went back outside or met their Maker.”

3. It stinks!

As Beth Klingner said:

“I have to walk downstairs to get to my bins in the garage, the compost bin is too small, it makes the whole garage smell, and when they are emptied my big green yard waste bin ends up covered in smelly slime and it’s disgusting to handle and smell.”

4. Poop sits around longer

With fewer trash pickups, many reported not liking the smell of poop that sits around longer. As John Burns said:

“Dog poop is the biggest problem. It is not supposed to go into the green bin … but it gets stinky in the regular trash bin after a week or more. … Every other week trash pick-up seems inadequate for human or pet waste disposal.”

5. The bins are too big…

Many people reported that the bins are cluttering up their streets and homes, and they’re bigger than they need to be. As Ivan McLean said:

“I would prefer to have a smaller outdoor bin since we typically have 10 pounds to put out unless there’s a load of yard debris.”

6. …and they’re hard to clean

As Katherine said:

“I would like the option of a much smaller bin for curbside recycling. All these bins are taking up too much room in my garage. Also, the bin has become a breeding ground for mold and gnats. I don’t know how to clean it, and I’m really not eager to do so. Would like to have the bin swapped twice a year for a clean one!”

7. The flimsy food scrap pail

Numerous people reported the lid on their pail doesn’t close. And Kathryn Gray reported:

“The little scrap bucket handle is pretty flimsy. Ours broke after a couple of months.”

8. More education needed

Carol Studenmund said she wants a little instruction on how to handle her food scraps:

“I need more info! I wish someone would give me info about how to clean that bin out appropriately. I just learned yesterday I could be using a bin liner to keep the bin from getting so dirty. I didn’t know about that. … I feel we got tossed into the green bin world without enough info, or even updates.”

9. Too many bins!

As Dave Baasch said:

“There is an aesthetic impact to the new green, blue, and brown bins. In our neighborhood you never saw trash containers except on pickup day. Three giant containers is too much for most people to find space for, so now they stay in view from the street. It is for us, and it’s a step back. If this is conspicuous virtue, I want no part of it.”

10. No credit for home composting:

Richard Gibson does his own composting and doesn’t need the curbside bin. As he said:

“I am irritated with the entire program. We used to have 32 gallons of trash picked up weekly. Now Walker Garbage has given us a food scrap recycling bin, which we never use, and they have reduced our trash pickup to every other week while raising the price $2 a month. … We are given no credit for doing our own composting and decreasing our use of their service.”

So, what would you add to the list of pros and cons?

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