Public Trash Can Expansion

In Montavilla Town, there are only two public trash cans. One sits next to the TriMet number 15 bus stop near McDonald’s. The other is a few blocks away on SE 79th. These two represent the highest density of public trash cans within Montavilla, but soon that could change. In 2016, Portland City Council expanded the city public trash can program into underserved areas. The expansion has been sporadic. However, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) expects it to reach Montavilla late in 2021.

To fund the public trash program, City Council adopted an increase to the solid waste commercial tonnage fee of $1.30. The first use of those collected funds happened in 2017, with a Jade District pilot distribution of new cans purchased from Securr. In the past few weeks, two of the new cans have arrived on NE Glisan near NE 97th Ave.

The Securr trash enclosures prevent misuse and dumping by design. These containers have locking doors and a small trash aperture that only allows individual items. Despite their availability, trash bags have already accumulated around one of the new cans. Outside of financial concerns over public trash collection, trash piled around cans has been the primary concern with public trash can programs.

Not all municipalities see expanded public trash cans are as an accepted solution to litter and dumping on city streets. In 2018, the Harlem neighborhood of New York systematically reduced trash cans. City staff viewed the misuse of the cans as a widespread failure of the program, with cans crammed full of trash bags and debris from homes and businesses. In that case, they removed abused cans and started fining residents for litter in front of their property. The city found it reduced the visible garbage on the street, but some residents felt that the Sanitation Department just shifted the burden onto them instead.

New York has a history of experimenting with trash can reduction to reduce trash. Between 2011 and 2015, New York City removed trash receptacles from select subway stations. Early success in the program demonstrated that garbage did not pile up in areas that had been a problem before removing trash bins. Critics dismissed the successes, pointing to an increase in collection efforts for the remaining cans during the testing period. The test did not accomplish the goals of lowering the garbage collected, just redistributed the volume to other areas. Ultimately they observed a 33 percent increase in track fires due to litter falling off the platform, and the test ended without any permanent changes.

New York is not alone in studying the efficacy of trash can placement on litter reduction. During 2017-2018, the City of Philadelphia conducted a study to test the principals of trash can reduction. In general, liter went up as they reduced the number of waste bins. The report recommended increasing the number of publicly accessible waste receptacles across many city spaces such as commercial corridors, parks, recreation centers, and highly trafficked streets.

Studies like the one done by Philadelphia may seem pointless, as people fell more cans will always reduce litter. However, they can help keep programs like Portlands expansion funded by reinforcing the need for public garbage cans through real numbers. BPS plans to conduct a review of Jade District trash receptacle placement, and study if trash can availability caused a reduction in litter. “With the large expansion of the trash can program into East Portland, we are beginning to plan for reviews of various aspects of the program, including placement and litter reduction.” Said a BPS official, communicating through Christine Llobregat, with BPS Communications.

However, Portland’s BPS doesn’t require a study to proceed with the expanded public trash can program. The Montavilla neighborhood should see new units on the street in November of 2021. BPS expects the citywide deployment to complete in August of 2022. 

Exact garbage can placement in our area is undetermined, waiting on community input. BPS has no existing procedure for involving the public in the can placement process, requiring them to develop that process now.

“We are currently in the process of developing the procedure for how to best gather community input for trash can placement. We will seek feedback and input from a broad array of community members, including neighborhood associations, business associations, non-profit organizations, faith communities, and individuals, with a priority focus on BIPOC communities.”

Louise Hoff of the Montavilla Neighborhood Association expressed interest in participating in trash can placement. Hoff already had a shortlist of locations that were known litter areas that could benefit from the addition of new trash receptacles.

Wide trash can distribution in Montavilla is not a certainty. Allocation happens at the city quadrant level, SE/NE/N/SW. This program should help Montavilla, but it is not the only source of public trash receptacles. TriMet maintains a limited number of cans near bus stops. Local businesses or community groups do sponsor some bus stop trash containers. Otherwise, it is up to TriMet to determine the best placement. Montavilla has a few TriMet maintained cans.

The BPS expansion is an excellent start for increasing the availability of public trash cans. If successful and supported by the public, the program could expand. Early community involvement is a way to signal to BPS that the service is wanted. Like all cities, Portland struggles to keep clean. BPS hopes this program will help reduce litter measurably. The mark of success will be cleaner streets.


Cover image Courtesy of City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. All others are copyright Montavilla News 2020.

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