Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Other than the bumper-sticker slogan telling us to Keep Portland Weird, those three words are ones many Portlanders live by. Recycling programs can differ from one state, or even one city, to the next. If you’re new to the Portland-metro area, you may need to educate yourself on some of the subtle nuances to get the most out of your recycling efforts.

Residential Curbside Pick-up

Setting up garbage service is likely at the top of your move-in checklist, right alongside water and power. The main thing to keep in mind in Portland is that residential garbage pick-up only happens every other week, or even just once a month, depending on your level of service. The goal is to get us to recycle and compost more. So, if you’re used to tossing everything in the garbage, or even putting all of your recycling in one bin, you’ll need to change your routines.

As for recycling, most of us will have two big bins delivered by our provider (such as Arrow Sanitary/Waste Connections or Waste Management) – green for composting and blue for paper, plastic, metal, etc. – and a separate receptacle for glass. You should receive some initial information on what goes where when you start your service, but keep in mind there are always exceptions and changes. If you’re outside Multnomah County, the guidelines may be completely different. In Portland, if you’re not sure who your provider is, go to, type in your address and look for the Utilities heading.

Most providers will have detailed recycling information available online. Waste Connections offers a “Waste Wizard” on their website that can help you determine what’s allowed and which bin it goes in. You can also sign-up for email notifications that will remind you what’s being picked up each week. Just remember, composting and recycling is picked up every week; garbage, every other week (or once a month). If you’re in a condo or apartment complex, there may be different schedules and guidelines – check with property management for more information.

Alternate Recycling/Refuse Sources

You’ll likely end up with a lot of moving and packing materials that can’t be recycled curbside, such as Styrofoam. There may also be hazardous items - like paint - that can’t go in your garbage. To avoid overwhelming your bi-weekly garbage pick-up, or to make sure you’re disposing of hazardous items correctly, go to Oregon Metro’s Find a Recycler page. Enter your address and what you need to dispose of to get a list of companies/organizations closest to you. You will see both recycling locations and organizations that may take items as donations. Any costs involved should also be listed.

If you’re willing to pay for the convenience, some junk removal companies may be willing to pick up and recycle/dispose of items and materials. Those will also be listed on Metro’s site.

Some common items that can’t be left out for curbside recycling include:

Paint & hazardous materials

  • Independent paint stores (Sherwin Williams, Miller, Rodda, etc.) and local hardware stores will take your standard architectural paint.
  • If you have full cans of unused paint, try a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity.
  • Paint and other hazardous household materials can also be dropped off at a disposal center, such as Metro’s Central transfer station.

Electronics: Old or broken laptops, desktops, TVs, monitors, DVD players, fax machines, etc. can either be fixed and reused by organizations, such as Free Geek, or they can be disposed of by companies such as Far West Recycling.

Styrofoam: Styrofoam in all forms is a bit harder to dispose of, as not many locations will take it anymore.

  • Check with your local packing/shipping store (UPS, FedEx stores) to see if they’ll take Styrofoam peanuts.
  • Block/formed styrofoam and/or foam food containers can only be taken to a handful of recyclers. Agilyx Corporation in Tigard is one. Agilyx is a “chemical recycling” plant that can break down polystyrene into liquid form. Best of all, Agilyx offers this service for free.

Bottles & cans: Oregon has had a very robust bottle bill for over 45 years. It now includes almost all plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers. Each container has a deposit of 10 cents. To get your money back, you will need to visit a BottleDrop location (Note: Some grocery stores may still accept returns). You can use their self-service machines, or let them do it for you (fee involved). BottleDrop also offers ways to donate, save or get more value for your containers. Check their website for details.

Portlandia tip: if you didn’t arrive in Portland with at least one growler/refillable bottle, it might be time to invest. Craft breweries, cideries, wine shops and even grocery stores have a bevy of beverages on tap.

Still a bit confused on what can and can’t be recycled? Check out this recent article for some clarification.