Illustration by Zahira Zuvuya

Portland needs a community approach to trash management

Together we can end the scourge of garbage on our streets

For years it has been a common sight in Portland to see trash piling up in the streets. This is a serious health risk to the citizens of our city, and we cannot afford to ignore this problem.


Austin Downs and Richard Acevedo of warn that with exposure to trash “one can develop diseases such as asthma, birth defects, cancer, cardiovascular disease, childhood cancer, COPD, infectious diseases, low birth weight, and preterm delivery. Bacteria, vermin, and insects can also be added to the problem that trash causes.” This makes one wonder what is being done about this growing problem in Portland and the threats it poses.


The City of Portland reports our city-funded public trash service is “expanding cleaning of public streets, and ensuring damaged businesses are boarded up and protected quickly from vandalism, the City will ensure these COVID-19 impacts are addressed. The livability and economic health of our communities and businesses depend on it. The City of Portland is engaging multiple bureaus to boost resources. This is in addition to existing city services that help keep Portland clean.”


Another city program called RID Patrol is also helping to get our city clean and litter-free by cleaning illegally dumped trash sites. They also investigate evidence found in dumped garbage and pursue eyewitness accounts of dumping incidents according to Oregon Metro. They boasted to Joelle Jones of KOIN how “in the last 6 months, more than 418 tons of waste have been picked up by the RID Patrol—as much as two Boeing 747s. That included 1,800 tires, 845 shopping carts, 380 mattresses, and 300 couches. In November, our crews cleaned 300 sites.”


While these programs are a big step in the right direction, there is still way too much trash on our streets. I think we need a program that holds community events that help clean up our city. There are programs in Portland doing this sort of work, but they do so with no reward whatsoever. This would be an even bigger step in the right direction, and it would lead to far more people doing this necessary work.


Currently, the program SOLVE hosts cleaning events year round, with 545 volunteers removing more than 4,715 pounds of trash throughout Portland.


Through such events, Portland could give its citizens the opportunity to give back to the city. I think an incentive or some sort of reward—perhaps even a cash reward—for picking up litter would boost our morale and involvement. The city could also offer discounts on city services, such as TriMet, for doing this service with proof of the doer’s good deed.


Alas, there are no programs like this so only a seldom few are contributing, and because of this we continue to have an abundance of trash on our streets. I hope that one day soon our city will be clean, and the health risks of garbage piling up will be gone. All we have to do is care enough to try to make that a reality.