PORTLAND — The city’s popular bulky-waste pickup program will make a comeback in the spring, but it will be run by a contractor and paid for only by the people who use it.

Next week, the city will ask contractors to submit bids for providing the trash disposal service. Based on the bids, the City Council will decide this winter how much to charge users.

The city-run program was eliminated by budget cuts in 2008. Before that, during a five- or six-week period every spring, residents across Portland dragged couches, mattresses and other large, unwanted items out to the curb for free pickup by city crews.

Some residents took the opportunity to sort through others’ piles and find value in stuff that otherwise would end up in the waste stream.

City crews collected 2,800 to 3,000 tons of bulky waste annually. Eliminating the program saved Portland $50,000 to $60,000 a year.

When the program ended, homeowners were allowed to bring their bulky waste to the Riverside Recycling Facility. Residents with E-cards – plastic cards with a bar code – may now dispose of 10 items a year free of charge.

The problem is that many residents don’t have access to pickup trucks to carry large items, and only property owners are issued E-cards. Tenants don’t get them. As a result, city officials say they have noticed an increase in illegal dumping.

Also, officials have heard many complaints from residents. When Mayor Michael Brennan said in his inaugural speech Monday that he would bring back the service, the crowd applauded.

The new program is designed to bring back bulky-waste disposal, but with user fees so there will be no cost for taxpayers, said Mike Bobinsky, director of the Department of Public Services.

A resident who wants to get rid of any large item, like a couch, will go online to buy a tag from the city, then use the same website to schedule the pickup.

The resident will stick the tag on the item and take it to the curb on the day when the city picks up trash. The contractor will pick up the item.

Each tag will include information about its owner and the item to be picked up, to prevent people from stealing tags.

Tags will be required for smaller items, like chairs, but city crews will pick them up while on their regular routes.

The City Council approved the program earlier this year, but it has yet to set prices for the service.
The city staff has tentatively set a price of $15 for large items and $7.50 for small items. Those fees could change, depending on how the bids come in, Bobinsky said.

“I want to build the fee around (the contractor’s) price, and I want to make sure it has no impact to the general fund,” he said.

City Councilor John Anton – who, along with Councilor Cheryl Leeman, co-chaired the Solid Waste Task Force, which developed the idea – said the program will reduce illegal dumping and provide a service to residents.

“This will give residents a way to get rid of trash and comply with the law in a revenue-neutral way,” he said.

The program will likely begin in April, Bobinsky said. While the previous program was restricted to the spring, the new program will operate during spring, summer and fall.

Because the bulky waste will be put on sidewalks over a longer time and throughout the city, trash-picking opportunities will be more limited, said Troy Moon, who heads Portland’s environmental programs.

To prevent the spread of bedbugs, the city will encourage residents to mark fabric items such as mattresses with spray paint, so no one but the pickup crews will take them.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or [email protected]

Twitter: @TomBellPortland