It wasn't hard to reduce the volume of our trash; many of the lifestyle changes I've made over the past few years, like getting chickens (who eat many of our food scraps), composting (the rest of 'em), and changing the way we eat (buying in bulk, cooking from scratch, avoiding plastic, and reusing containers religiously) meant we were already generating far less trash than before. Other things, like our recent tight budget that had me seriously considering every purchase (and thus, its waste-generating packaging) and going out to eat less (no more takeout containers or Burgerville bags) helped, too.
I'm barely even recycling much; I've been reading more about how little of what we recycle actually makes it back into the product stream (newspaper has the best chance, FYI) and how much energy and byproducts are used and spewed to recycle. A glass jar at People's Co-op noted that it takes 90% more energy to recycle a glass jar than to return it for re-use under a deposit return program -- this is probably even a bigger differential for the jars I bring to fill with maple syrup or olive oil. Because of this, I try to stick to packaging that can be either reused or composted.
I still have a long way to go, of course! But today marked the first month I'd managed to generate only one can of trash for the whole month. I'd cut off my weekly service at the beginning of February, and here I was, March 1, wheeling out one 32-gallon can. A major cleaning project had meant it was well-filled, but still! No bags lolling off the side, splitting because they'd been so tightly packed. (And this is even with disposable diapers still in use for Monroe; I have never made the leap to cloth diapers, much as I know it would be a good thing for the landfills and my own sense of responsibility for the planet.)
Here's the thing, though, that bothers me about all this: I'm barely saving any money at all. Weekly pickup for a 32-gallon can is $25.30 (it's a little bit more on the west side). Monthly pickup for a 32-gallon can? $16.45. I reduce my trash by roughly 77%: and I save 35%. There's no every-other-week option and the smaller can, a 20-gallon minican, only saves $3.10 per month of the regular rates. I've looked at rates for other cities that I could find on Google; barely any localities offer the monthly pickup (yay for Portland on that), but in most Washington towns I found, the rates were more sensible, paying per gallon (roughly) for your trash generation.
Of my bills, this is one of the littlest, so it's hardly breaking me to pay the (as I perceive it) $11 more than what's fair. But it seems a little cockeyed to build a pricing structure in a way that seems to give an incentive to produce more trash -- or, put another way, subtly encourages us to produce an average amount of trash. Average is an American who throws away 4.39 pounds of trash every day. Seems as if Portland could strive for better than average.
I know some of you have reduced your trash, too; I heard the story from one woman who, with her husband, only generate a can every six months -- I think they call the garbage company for special pickup on "trash day." Another woman is so focused on trash reduction, her garbage fits in a coffee can. I've mulled over the idea of asking a neighbor to switch off weeks with me; I'd save more that way, even if I had more trash! Crazy. Have any of you found other solutions? Does this (admittedly small) financial incentive misalignment bug you, too?