Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talking Trash: How We Deal with Refuse and Recycling

We have become very interested in how much garbage we produce, and what becomes of it once it leaves our home. We want to handle our waste responsibly and save money while doing it.

Portland Metro contracts with Waste Management (WM) for waste and recyclable material processing. WM is an interesting company- they harvest gases released in landfills to produce energy and they sort & recycle materials that were not sorted before pick-up.

Unfortunately, garbage service is not that cheap. Weekly pick-up for one 32-gallon cart would cost us $26.75 every month. That's $321.00 a year! Use this link to find more information on pricing for 32, 65 and 90-gallon carts.

Before learning the WM sorts everything they collect, I was disappointed by the number of things we could NOT put in the curbside recycling bin- common items that we frequently throw away, such as plastic bags, microwaveable containers, or broken glass.

We decided to try collecting and hauling our own waste. Gross, right? And overwhelming? And it's a lot of work, too, right? Nope, not even a little.

We only keep the recyclables (which are dry) in the house- in the basement, actually. We have an unfinished basement with (roughly) 15 square feet of space below the staircase. Sometimes this sort of space can be difficult to utilize, but when you're just stacking up bags of mixed paper, plastics, etc, you can make use of every cubic inch. Honestly, it takes months to fill this space.

These bags account for roughly 85% of our refuse. What about the remaining 15%? Nasty things that might stink (like the meat packaging) might get a rinse and opportunity to dry before going into the trash. Non-stinky things, like wads of blue painters tape, chunks of broken tile, too-far-gone dog toys, and compostable cups go in the garbage bag. The previous owners left two 90-gallon carts and tw0 65-gallon carts. I don't know if we've ever actually filled the carts completely.

When it's time to make the dump run- usually when we're tired of seeing so many bags of recycling in the basement- we load up the truck and haul it off.

So now you know what we're doing, and how we got started. Do you know why we keep doing this? Recycling is FREE. The trip isn't totally free, in fact, we have to pay the flat, minimum which is $28.00, for non-sorted materials (the refuse, which will still be sorted by WM/Portland Metro staff).

When you arrive at the dump, they will weigh your vehicle and ask about your load. This is when we explain it's all sorted recycling with a few bags of garbage. The person at the gate tells us about the minimum fee, and we proceed into the facility.

People bring everything to this place!

(Sorry for the blurry picture!)

Mixed waste:


Even building materials:

Do you recognize that logo? When we needed a new register grate for the kitchen, we found what we needed at The ReBuilding Center. I bet this is a convenient drop-off for lots of home owners and contractors.

The facility operates by moving the large piles onto belts, where the staff can sort through the materials. It was hard to get any good pictures [while trying to help sort the recycling] and not bother the folks who were busy working.

On the way out, they weigh your car again, and you are charged accordingly. We are always under the first weight (400 pounds) and because most of ours is recycling, we always pay just $28.

I've been teased for the extent we go to, for the sake of saving some cash, but it's really no sweat. We have the space in the unfinished basement, we have the truck, and we're willing. It's about 90-minutes of work, every few months. We made a generous estimate that we spent $100 on refuse and recycling this year. Am I willing to do that to save $221 a year? Um, yes, of course I am.


  1. Good for you! My husband and I are doing something similar to save money on garbage service. Though we are always careful about fully sorting the recycling so it's free to drop off.

  2. Sharon, Don't you love it? We fully sort as well- usually I do it ahead of time, but this time (and a few others) we just sort when we get there. The recycling is free, either way, but because we always have 4 or 5 bags of things that can't be recycled, we still have to pay the minimum fee.