Rights to Recycling

Do you rent in a single family home, duplex, triplex or fourplex?

If so, chances are you already know what it took changes to the curbside collection system for the City of Portland to learn: we have gaps in communicating recycling and composting information to residential renters of these "small-plex" rentals.

When the City of Portland sent out information notifying residents of the addition of food scraps and shift to everyother-week garbage, it became clear almost immediately that current mailing lists missed large numbers of units in duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.

In fact we ran into problems every step along the way for this population. Curbside customer service received calls from renters who don’t have adequate service, lacked educational information, or had issues with location of containers, or just plain had inadequate recycling and compost containers. During spring 2012, Master Recyclers went door-to-door in neighborhoods with a high population of residents who are linguistically isolated or rent. Door-to-door outreach was focused on these two populations because it was found in the pilot that they were the least exposed to messages through mainstream media campaigns and direct mailings. Master Recyclers uncovered a myriad of problems for small-plex renters- from tenants not receiving kitchen pails and information about composting and recycling to tenants not understanding why their garbage wasn’t picked up and who to call when there is a problem. There was also a wide range of understanding of landlord and tenant legal responsibilities for providing curbside collection service.

Improving access to the collection system for this population will greatly help meet both recovery and equity goals. There are over 36,000 units of rentals in the 1-4 unit category in Portland. That means that residential renters make up about 24 percent of the households served by the curbside collection system. This system is designed to optimize options for recovery. If renters are not receiving the same services or information, they are likely recycling and composting at a lower rate. Meanwhile the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is committed to promote fairness and equity in the programs, services and activities of public entities, including the opportunity for participation.

Discovery of this problem is an opportunity to identify disparities, close the gaps, and deliver an equitable City service. City staff audited the system, interviewed landlords and tenants, explored data on demographics and policies and identified new outreach strategies. Some administrative rules were changed or will be better enforced to increase clarity of minimum standard services, required roles of garage and recycling companies, landlords and residents. The City has also identified ways to improve communication between agencies so that when there is a bill dispute or a landlord does not make payment, the tenant spends less time waiting for services to be reinstated. Outreach and education will include a special focus on both landlords and tenants, and will use a multi-pronged approach to increase access to information. This includes direct mailings to landlords and tenants, partnership building with associations and non-profits who reach these two populations, and direct technical assistance.

Master Recyclers can help! The City plans to offer technical assistance for tenants that includes door-to-door outreach, outdoor signage for plexes and food scrap stickers for green Portland Composts! roll carts. We will spend time talking directly with tenants to answer questions. Look in the next newsletter for opportunities to participate in this outreach.

When participating directly in this outreach effort or just tabling or presenting in Portland, it is important to know these basic requirements for residential rentals in Portland (note these are Portland rules – if you live in other parts of the region, the rules are different):

  • In Portland all landlords or property managers must contact haulers and set up service in the owner’s name, and pay directly for services.
  • The minimum required standard of service per unit is 20 gallons of garbage every other week. Smaller volumes per unit or less frequent service is not allowed for residential rentals.
  • Property owners can choose the size and number of garbage containers for each property as long as the 20 gallon minimum per unit is met.
  • Recycling and composting (including food scrap collection) must be available for residential renters.
  • Service for single family homes and duplexes typically includes one blue recycling and one green compost roll cart, and one yellow glass only bin, collected weekly at curbside.
  • Service for triplexes and fourplexes typically includes two blue recycling and one green compost roll cart and one yellow glass only bin, collected weekly at curbside .

Thank you for helping  make recycling, composting and garbage accessible to all Portland residents!