They come out at night, hiding beneath the cloak of darkness. Weighed down by bags of reeking garbage, they hobble along the streets in search for the closest Dumpster. And these people of the night, they're your friends and neighbors: normally unassuming and law-abiding people, merely looking to get rid of their trash.
"I come in every morning and see the Dumpster overflowing with black trash bags," says Bridget Jacobski, co-owner of Colucci's Hilltop Superette on Munjoy Hill. Colucci's Dumpster is just one of the casualties of the trash-bag price increase the Portland City Council passed, which became effective July 1. Since the city-approved blue bags are the only ones the local trash collectors will pick off residential curbs, the bags have been an essential part of Portland's waste-disposal system. With the price of 15-gallon bags jumping from 75 cents to $1 and 30-gallon bags from $1.50 to $2, they're harder to afford — and that's making them less useful than they were before.No blue bag means no roadside pickup. No roadside pickup means living in filth — unless you find someone else's Dumpster. While illegally taking out the trash is hardly a new phenomenon, this alternative to the increasingly expensive blue-bag system has finally become a problem for commercial trash customers. Jacobski once viewed leaving her Dumpster unlocked as a community service for locals, allowing them to throw in the occasional bag of trash. But with unmanageable amounts of Hefty bags, small appliances, and even broken furniture being thrown in, Jacobski has since been forced to lock the Dumpster and post a sign telling people that it is not for public use. It worked: the invasion of local trash has ceased. She says she feels bad about it, but since the bag-price hike, her Dumpster couldn't keep up with the trash. "I had to do it," Jacobski says. "I couldn't very well pay for the entire neighborhood's trash."
Susan Fry, a cashier at Paul's Food Center near Congress Square, has noticed her regular customers now only buy one roll of bags per visit, instead of their formerly-usual two or three. "I've had customers come in to buy bags, and when I tell them the new price, they say 'forget it, I'm finding a Dumpster,'" she says. And according to Fry, the only people who still buy the bags are the ones who don't have a Dumpster to throw their trash in.
But all Fry's paying customers have to do is look. There's no end to the infinite string of Dumpsters strewn about Portland. Mostly unlocked, all these massive receptacles are missing is a big welcome mat.
Trash trekkers are opportunists, nomadically searching Portland for the least conspicuous Dumpster, but they better tread lightly in some places: some local businesses won't put up with the expanded trend. Expecting all unwelcomed trash with a grin on her face, Suzie Rapham, manager of LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street, says she'll be handling any new problems the same way she has for years: "We have had that problem in the past, whether it be private or businesses, but we track those people down and give them their trash back."