5:17:12 Portland's Trash

When we moved to Portland in the 1980s, we felt we'd fallen down a rabbit hole of municipal trash collection. Coming from California, we expected city employees would pick up trash.

Not true in Portland, Oregon. And yet the streets were clean and free of trash piles. Trash pickup was quite laissez-faire and provided by about 150 garbage companies freely soliciting business throughout the city. If a company was willing to drive to your house, you could contract for garbage pickup from many price/service choices.

Somewhat akin to the no-zoning in Houston, Texas, this free-market approach apparently worked. About a year later, when we bought a house, one of the first items on our move-in checklist: Who's going to pick up the garbage?

[cloudburst recycling]We asked around and saw different garbage companies did show up (on different days of the week, of course) and one neighbor recommended a company called "Cloudburst Recycling." As the name implied, this company was a committed pioneer for curbside recycling, if on a voluntary, limited basis.

But Portland's quirky libertarian garbage collection underwent big changes when the State legislature said all municipalities had to offer curbside recycling of plastics, metals, paper--the works. This meant a huge capital investment in collection centers to separate out the trash stream with machinery.

So the City did what municipalities do under such circumstances. They went elsewhere searching for "strong hands" to bankroll the capital investment. A partner was found in Waste Management, Inc. a NYSE-listed company. An inducement to Waste Management to expand operations into Portland was the City's decision to "rationalize" garbage collection routes by assigning them, beginning in 1992.

Not unexpectedly, many local garbage collection companies didn't applaud the new strategic alliance with Waste Management, Inc. Still reforms went forward and fortunately we kept Cloudburst Recycling as our company--though that was the luck of the route assignment.

So where is Portland's trash in 2012?

Dozens of garbage collection companies still work our streets. And we have a recycling programs, curbside, that is probably envied elsewhere. We have three roller carts. Food scrap/yard debris compost cart goes out weekly. Recyclables cart goes weekly (or when full). Ditto the glass jars/bottles bin. Lastly, "true trash" cart goes out only every other week. Recycling can be addictively fun and that only adds to the motivation to keep "waste" out of the landfills.

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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