A majority of Portland city councilors signaled their interest Monday in a new solid waste program that would introduce larger covered recycling carts but retain the city’s pay-per-throw trash program and keep waste collection with city employees.

But some councilors would like to examine using carts for trash and recycling, similar to the system from a private company used by South Portland.

The City Council’s Energy and Sustainability Committee is expected to examine the matter further and bring a recommendation back to the council. Officials are trying to include the new system in next year’s budget.

Updating Portland’s solid waste program has been discussed for years. The city has curbside pickup for trash and recyclables, and residents are required to buy purple bags for household waste.

The debate comes as the program has drawn complaints and criticism about litter from no-lid recycling bins, rising prices for the city-required trash bags and public works employees who were caught on video dumping trash and recycling into the same garbage truck.

Officials say pay-as-you-throw provides an incentive for recycling and provides revenue to offset the cost of trash and recycling operations.


But residents and officials have long complained that the open-topped recycling bins provided by the city are too small and materials easily blow out of them, creating a litter problem.

There appears to be a strong consensus on the council that Portland should keep pay-as-you-throw and replace its inadequate recycling bins.

“People are used to it,” said Councilor Ed Suslovic, referring to the city’s trash bag program. “They grumble about it, but they are used to it.”

In a presentation to the council Monday evening, sustainability coordinator Troy Moon said the staff recommend providing residents 64- or 96-gallon lidded recycling carts and keeping the city’s purple plastic bags. The city would buy three side-loading trucks that would be semiautomated to pick up the carts, and city employees would continue to collect waste, according to the plan.

Considering Portland’s many narrow streets, the staff thought it would not be feasible to use fully automated trucks to collect carts of trash and recycling with mechanical arms, said City Manager Jon Jennings. Maneuvering automated collection trucks through streets lined with cars and snow piles in the winter would be “very challenging” and maintenance for automated vehicles can be intensive, Jennings said. Automated trucks could work in areas of the city off the peninsula, Jennings said.

Although the recommended program would keep trash and recycling with public works, Jennings said he is “very interested” in seeing what solutions the private sector could offer.


According to city figures, the recommended system would cost $271,574 a year, after revenue from the sale of Portland bags. It would require a $1.07 million up-front investment in trucks and equipment, although Moon said he is very optimistic that grant funding could cover the cost of recycling carts.

Most of the council voiced support for the recommendation as a way to solve the problem of inadequate recycling while keeping a pay-as-you-throw model and limiting costs. Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who serves on the Energy and Sustainability Committee, said he likes large recycling carts for multi-unit buildings and wants to keep trash and recycling as city programs.

“I like the idea that we do it in the city,” Thibodeau said. “Private doesn’t necessarily mean better.”

Councilors Belinda Ray, Justin Costa, Nicholas Mavodones and Jill Duson also signaled their inclination toward the city recommendation, for similar reasons.

Councilor David Brenerman, while not opposing the proposal, said that paying for plastic trash bags is one of the leading complaints he heard from voters when he was campaigning for his seat. He would prefer to see carts for trash and recycling, and wants to issue a request for proposals to find out how much a private system would cost.

According to city figures, a private system using carts for trash and recycling would cost $3.1 million after counting revenue from bag sales, but Jennings said the amount is based on estimates from local hauling companies.


Jon Hinck, chairman of the Energy and Sustainability Committee, said he agrees with keeping pay-as-you-throw but isn’t convinced that keeping plastic bags is the right move, considering their environmental impact.

The city had put out a plan that included plastic bags without fully researching an automated cart system that has been used in many other American cities, Hinck said. He wants to see a system that works toward that goal, unless he could be shown that bags are more effective at convincing people they should recycle, he said.

“I wouldn’t be inclined to sign off on the bag system without being convinced that bags are superior than carts,” Hinck said.

Correction: This story was revised at 11:27 a.m., June 13, 2016, to correct the spelling of Portland City Manager Jon Jennings’ name. A previous version of this story had an incorrect spelling.


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