Trash talk dominates Portland City Council workshop

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PORTLAND — Solid waste collection in the city could become more automated, or even privatized, in about a year.

A plan from City Manager Jon Jennings, Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon, and Assistant to the City Manager Mike Murray was praised in a council workshop Monday as a good way to reduce the amount of recycled materials that are blown around, while seeing if some privatization of collection services is feasible.

“I’m inclined to be supportive of the recommendation. I like the fact you have reached out to people who are doing different things,” Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. said.

Moon said staff considered options such as privatizing the collection of all solid waste and recyclables, keeping the service public while requiring carts for recyclables and garbage (replacing pay-per-throw bags), and contracting for the  collection of recyclables or off-peninsula services.

Jennings and staff are now recommending the city buy wheeled carts with lids to replace existing smaller, 16- to 18-gallon lidless containers for recyclables. The city would continue its pay-per-throw program with garbage bags sold at area stores for $1.35 or $2.70 each.

The city would also buy “three semi-automated, side-loading collection vehicles” to collect recyclables, while issuing a request for proposals to contractors to determine the potential scope and cost of a privatized service.

“All of our scenarios involve a cart-based collection program,” Moon said, a move unanimously welcomed by councilors weary of seeing windblown recyclable materials escaping from the lidless bins.

“The recycling waste I see blowing around this city we need to address sooner than later,” Councilor Belinda Ray said.

The vehicles, which could be operated by one or two workers, could be purchased as part of the city capital improvements budget in fiscal year 2018.

The 64- or 96-gallon carts, which Moon estimated could cost $1.25 million, are “not appropriate items for the capital improvement budget,” Moon said in a memo to councilors.

Jennings and Moon said the cost of carts could be offset by grant money, and city residents would not be required to pay for them. Replacing garbage bags with carts for solid waste would double the bin purchase cost, Moon said.

The bags, which came into use in 1999, are projected to bring $2.1 million in revenue this year, Moon said. Keeping the bags was seen as an incentive to boost recycling rates, as well.

Councilor Jon Hinck, chairman of the council Energy & Sustainability Committee, remained skeptical about the pay-as-you-throw model, and said the study by city staff needed more detail.

“What I have not bought into is embracing the bags,” he said, saying they are also prone to getting torn up by wildlife and he has not seen data suggesting “carts are inferior to the bags.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon outlines new proposals for the collection of recyclables at a City Council workshop June 13.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.