Portland slop buckets: latest green Holy Grail quest

by Dave Lister

Let me start by saying I love Portland’s curbside recycling program.

Without the ability to throw my plastic jugs, paper bags, scrap metal and newspapers into that blue bin, I would be filling a 60-gallon garbage can every week, rather than a 30-gallon. That being said, Portland’s new plan to justify cutting garbage pickup to every other week by virtue of allowing us to throw our food waste into our yard debris receptacles for weekly pickup is inconvenient, impractical and, frankly, onerous.

During the City Council session on Aug. 17, when the council heard a “second reading” on the proposal (the first having been four years ago), the council waxed eloquently over the city’s newest quest to embrace the Holy Grail of green. City Commissioner Dan Saltzman stated, “We’ve evolved. It’s only appropriate that every five or six years we push ourselves a little harder, and that time is now. I’m eager for the experiment.”

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz insisted that the program had been “well publicized.” She went on to say her office had received many calls and emails indicating residents were “very worried,” but pointed out that her family had been getting along fine with monthly trash pickup for 19 years.

Mayor Sam Adams exhibited excitement over the fact that cheese-encrusted pizza boxes would now go into the compost bin rather than the trash. As a man who seems to delight in surrounding himself with 20-something staff members and maintaining a college-dorm atmosphere in his City Hall office, I’m sure he thinks takeout pizza is a mainstay of everyone’s diet. But in the real world, I don’t think so.

If you don’t know how this program works, let me enlighten you. The city plans to provide every household with a slop bucket to keep on the kitchen counter. You are supposed to scrape your pork chop bones, uneaten potato skins and anything else left on your plate after dinner into your slop bucket.

When your bucket is full, you are to dump it into your green yard debris roll cart. If you’re colorblind, you’ll need a friend or family member to help you make the right can selection. Anything of a nonorganic nature that you can’t put in your blue recycling roll cart, you can continue to put in the garbage.

The compost will be collected weekly, but your regular garbage will be picked up every other week. That means dirty diapers, medical waste from adult care facilities, soiled paper towels and nonrecyclable food packaging will sit in your can for 14 days. That probably won’t be too bad this winter, but just wait until August.

The City Council has proclaimed that the trial program for this system, which included 2,000 households out of Portland’s half a million, was a resounding success. It was so successful, in fact, that 335 of the trial participants responded to a post-trial survey. Of those, 80 percent indicated they were at least “somewhat satisfied” with the program. Now there’s a mandate if I’ve ever seen one.

To his credit, Bruce Walker of Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development agreed to a recent interview with talk radio host Lars Larson to defend the program. Despite the fact that Larson had him all but agree this plan is being forced down people’s throats, Walker insisted the city “was moving forward with this program” and that people would “get used to it.”

And where will the city dump all this putrid slop to let it compost? Lents, of course. Where else? The Cully neighborhood is already full of the duck poop they dredged from the Laurelhurst pond.

Dave Lister is a small-business owner who served on Portland’s Small Business Advisory Council.