On May 18, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff joined Commissioner Carmen Rubio, community and businesses leaders, and local artists to celebrate the expansion of the City’s Public Trash Can program into North Portland.
The event, held at St John’s Plaza, featured speakers who have been instrumental in the program’s success and expansion, including Alando Simpson, CEO of COR Disposal & Recycling (pictured above), BPS Director Donnie Oliveira and Chief Sustainability Officer Vivian Satterfield, as well as two of the local artists whose work is featured on the cans. The bureau’s Waste Operations Manager Quintin Bauer served as emcee.
The Public Trash Can program has significantly enhanced community cleanliness and a sense of pride for neighbors and businesses. Over the last 3 years more than 650 new public trash cans have been added across the city. Furthermore, more than 150 outdated, damaged, and non-functional containers have been removed and replaced in various business districts as part of the expansion.
By providing convenient waste disposal options, the program has reduced litter and improved the overall appearance of public spaces. Recent trash can weight audits reveal the substantial impact of the program, with more than 175 tons (350,000 pounds) of waste collected each month from public trash cans across the city. That’s roughly the equivalent of three large blue whales.
Functionality and art
In addition to increasing the number of publicly available trash cans, the program is unique in its community-centric approach. BPS sought community feedback on the placement of cans to ensure their locations had the highest chance of successfully reducing litter. Portlanders filled out more than 4,000 surveys, providing BPS valuable insight to determine receptacle location.
“When Portlanders were asked where new trash cans should be placed, their response was heard loud and clear,” said Commissioner Rubio at the event. “This program should be celebrated because BPS took community feedback, listened, and selected sites for new cans and service based on those most pressing needs.”
Furthermore, through community engagement and with the creativity of several local artists, BPS transformed public trash cans into captivating works of art. Collaborating closely with local artists, BPS staff embarked on an innovative project to cover seemingly ordinary trash cans with extraordinary art pieces. This visionary initiative not only reflects Portland’s commitment to artistic expression but also fosters a strong sense of civic pride.
The vibrant artwork, which was selected through community participation, has garnered widespread acclaim, making headlines in magazines and intriguing potential visitors across various social media platforms. Since their inception, the artistic cans have become an iconic symbol of Portland’s unique identity and dedication to fostering a thriving arts community.
One of the artists who spoke at the event, Portland-based muralist Alex Chiu, focused on local flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest to inspire his designs. “This program is making a big difference in neighborhoods and the city of Portland,” he said, “and I’m honored and humbled to be a part of that.”
Latoya Lovely, another artist whose work is featured on the North Portland cans, said, “My artwork on these streets tells the little girl, the mother who’s my age, the grandmother, uncle, aunt: ‘We see you. You’re here. This installation represents who you are.’ What an honor to have it not just be a trash receptacle, but to be a part of our community’s growth, vibrancy, and beauty.”
Background and next steps
In 2017, Portland’s Jade District was the first to receive new trash cans as part of a pilot project to evaluate the performance of a new can design, graphics, and can placement. The program expanded into East Portland in 2020 and Southeast in 2021 with the addition of more than 400 new public trash cans. Installation of new cans in North and Northeast Portland was completed in 2023, bringing the total number of cans from approximately 750 across the city to 1400. The Public Trash Can program is expected to expand to Northwest and South Portland by 2025.
You can find photos of the event and all Public Trash Cans on the BPS Flickr page.