Many answered. Many told Metro they’re interested in doing something with garbage besides sending it to a landfill – and they’d be willing to pay more on their garbage bill to see that happen.
These are some of the findings of both in-person and online surveys of residents around the Portland region conducted last summer and fall. The surveys were intended to provide the Metro Council with a sense of opinions and potential concerns about options related to the long-term management of garbage generated in the region – about a million tons a year. Right now, much of that garbage gets buried in landfills.
But the contract Metro holds with Waste Management to do that expires at the end of 2019. The council is looking at options – like burning trash for energy – that could help make more use of what the region throws away.
Survey respondents show interest in turning trash into power
In total, nearly 4,000 people responded to the surveys. Numbers from the in-person and online surveys were collated separately. Here are some key findings.
Highlights from in-person surveys
About 1,000 people took a survey in person. While these surveys are not as statistically solid as random-sample phone surveys, the characteristics of those surveyed reflect the racial, gender and other demographics of the region as a whole.
- More than a third of respondents thought they knew where their garbage ended up, but only 22 percent actually did. (A majority of the garbage from the Portland region goes to a landfill about 150 miles east of Portland.)
- Nearly three quarters of respondents indicated they would be willing to pay $5 more per month for garbage service if they knew that more materials were being recovered from their trash for reuse and recycling. There were no statistically relevant differences among homeowners and renters or by county of residence. Thirteen percent said they would not be willing to pay more and 15 percent were unsure.
- More than half of respondents indicated they would be willing to pay $5 more per month for garbage service to send some of their garbage to incinerators to create electricity. Again, there were no statistically relevant differences among homeowners and renters or by county of residence. Nearly a third weren’t sure they would pay more, and 17 percent said they did not want to pay more. Among those who said no or were unsure, top concerns were unanswered questions about pollution from incineration and the ability to pay higher bills.
Read the full survey report
Highlights from the online Opt In survey
More than 2,700 people took a survey online through Opt In. This survey was similar to a survey fielded in 2012. It included some basic information, as well as potential costs and benefits, on the technologies and then asked participants whether advantages outweighed disadvantages for the particular approach that was described. Because Opt In surveys a pool of self-selected panelists, survey administrators were asked to weight panel responses by county of residence, political party and gender to better reflect public sentiment in the region. Listed below are the weighted numbers. The report shows only panel results.
- Most people – 85 percent – feel good about their current garbage service.
- When asked whether the advantages of continued use of landfills outweighed the disadvantages as described in the survey, respondents were roughly split – a little more than half of respondents said yes, and 42 percent said no.
- When asked whether the advantages of burning garbage for electricity outweighed the disadvantages as described in the survey, three quarters of respondents said yes. Twenty-one percent said they would prefer to continue sending most garbage to landfills.
- Three quarters of respondents would be willing to see garbage bills raised $5 per month to support generating electricity from garbage, and 19 percent would not, with 6 percent offering no opinion.
- After learning about the advantages and disadvantages of both options and asked to choose a preference, more than three quarters of respondents support burning garbage to produce electricity and less than a quarter support landfills.
Read the full Opt In survey report
Metro_Solid_Waste_Roadmap_ OptIn Survey_Report_2015113.pdf
Note: The Opt In report shows panel results, not weighted results.
Survey results represent range of residents
The in-person surveys were conducted over the late summer and early fall at 23 locations across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, from farmers markets and neighborhood clean-up events to the Blue Lake International Food Festival and the Oregon Zoo. The Opt In survey was available in October.
Across the two surveys, people of color comprised about 12 percent of the combined participant pool, and responses were analyzed to understand whether there were significant differences in how communities of color view choices about managing garbage and the related costs. No significant differences were detected.
In addition, a Let’s Talk Trash event in downtown Portland in early November featuring a panel of landfill experts prompted conversation among and feedback from many of the roughly 150 guests. People also engaged with Metro – and each other – on a range of related posts on Metro’s Facebook page.
Metro Council poised for next steps
The feedback received from these surveys will help inform the Metro Council’s deliberations over whether to pursue a waste-to-energy option as a way to use garbage as a resource and to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills. Further questions about environmental, economic, health and other impacts are still on the table before commitments can be made regarding the future of the region’s garbage. At a work session today, Metro Council will discuss what next steps make sense.