Jaren Hadley, center, throws a couple of Portland’s purple pay-as-you-throw trash bags in the back of a garbage truck in the West End in February. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer, file

They bust open easily. They’re too expensive. The birds tear them apart.

“They have the structural integrity of cotton candy,” said Meredith Finn, referring to Portland’s distinctive purple trash bags which are set to become more expensive next month.

The city’s pay as-as-you-throw program, which requires Portland residents to buy and use special bags for curbside trash pickup, has been in place since 1999. But Portlanders have a lot to say now that the city has announced that, starting July 1, a roll of 10 regular-sized trash bags will cost $19 – an increase of $1.50.

Finn, a 58-year-old who lives in a third-floor walk-up in the West End, said she’s become accustomed to the bags spilling in her stairwell when she brings them down to the curb.

“I’ve had a lot of adventures coming up and down the stairs with those things. If you put more than a pound of stuff in it, it’s pretty much guaranteed to break,” she said.

She’s not the only one who has a bone to pick with the program: When a Press Herald reporter posted on Nextdoor asking for opinions on the purple bags and their rising cost, more than 50 people commented within 24 hours.


Finn said the price hike has her worried for people who are already struggling to get by with the increasingly high cost of living in Portland.

“They were already pretty expensive. I worry about people who were struggling to live in Portland as it is. I think it’s going to be hard for people,” said Finn.

The city implemented a similar price hike just two years ago. The price of the bags pays for the city’s trash removal services, which is estimated to cost $3.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year. About $2.5 million of that will be paid for by the bag fees. If those were eliminated, the city’s property tax rate would go up another 2.5%, said city spokesperson Jessica Grondin.

She noted that Portland residents had the opportunity to weigh in on the price increase during the budget process, but nobody complained.

Part of the onus behind the program is to incentivize people to recycle. Grondin said that since the inception of the program, Portland has consistently been recycling 40% of its waste, higher than the national average of 32%.

Abby Bradford, 31, of Portland, says she supports the pay-as-you-throw trash bag program because it reduces waste. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Abby Bradford, 31, a former zero-waste advocate who was shopping at the Forest Avenue Hannaford on Tuesday, said the increased price is a good thing.


“Anything that helps us consume less, I support,” she said. “I also think it’s helpful that it’s paired with a compost program and that there are decent recycling options here.”

In the 90-degree weather Tuesday afternoon, Sean Brueninghaus, 24, didn’t hesitate to stop outside the store to talk with a reporter about his frustrations over the system.

He said the bags have caused problems in his apartment building, where some tenants refuse to use them, resulting in trash being left outside for weeks.

“It’s just a hassle. My roommates and I split the cost and buy the bags, but not everyone follows the rules,” said Brueninghaus. “It’s definitely a cost I don’t really want to pay every few weeks.”

For some, the hassle of the bags has become too much.

Marty Braun, 75, who lives on Peaks Island, said he stopped buying the city trash bags about five years ago.


“The seagulls and crows would rip them up before the guys could come to collect them. Even if I ran out with my bags in the morning, the gulls and the crows would scatter the trash around,” Braun said.

Plus, he said, the bags were pricey, even before the two latest increases. He now buys regular bags and takes them to the dump himself.

“It’s easier for me to deal with the trash on my own terms,” he said.

Sean Brueninghaus, 24, of Portland, says the city’s purple trash bags are a “hassle” and too many people don’t follow the rules. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Grondin said the bags are manufactured by Waste Zero, which makes bags specifically for pay-as-you-throw programs. She said that any “defective bags” can be returned and swapped out.

Mark Henley, 63, who used to drive a recycling truck for the University of Southern Maine, said he thinks the price increase may result in others opting out of the program.

“I think people are going to find other ways to get rid of things,” he said.


Henley said he often sees people tossing household trash in public garbage cans or in trash cans in alleys behind restaurants.

Still, many Portlanders don’t feel they have a choice but to take part in the program. Some say they are overwhelmed and frustrated with rising costs seemingly in every direction.

“They just slammed us with an increase in taxes and now this?” said Pam Szalajeski, 78.

The North Deering resident said she feels her neighborhood is often neglected by the city, and it’s tough to pay more but not see the results of those investments.

Cathy Flint, who is 61 and lives near Capisic Street, said she feels exhausted by the constant rising prices in the city.

“What’s it going to be next year? We don’t get a say. We didn’t get to vote on this stuff. I don’t remember anyone asking me if we should spend money on an electric trash truck,” said Flint, referring to the new truck the city debuted this week.


“They want to make up a name for that trash truck and celebrate it, and it’s like, ‘Who is gonna pay for the trash truck?’ ” she said.

A city of Portland garbage trucks drives down an East End street in February. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer, file

Szalajeski said she would rather not have the electric truck and pay a lower price for the purple bags.

“It just seems insensitive of them to turn around and announce that they just purchased an expensive dump truck,” she said.

Grondin said the electric truck was purchased with grant funding from the Volkswagen Settlement Fund and the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program. The city ultimately paid about $148,000 of the total purchase price of $683,852. A new diesel truck typically costs $350,000, she said.

For her part, Szalajeski said she plans to stock up on bags before the price increase – a method Parkside resident Keri Lord has used in the past.

Lord, 76, who served on City Council in the early ’90s, said she bought about four rolls before the last increase in 2022 so she could avoid paying the higher price for as long as possible. She’s still going through those rolls.

“It’s just inconsiderate of the city,” she said. “At the same time, we’re raising property taxes. It’s like they think we’re bottomless pits. I really feel like the council does not seriously take into consideration us residents and how we’re faring in this economy.”

Lord is supportive of the program in general – she thinks it incentivizes Portlanders to create less waste – but she wishes the city could find a way to keep the prices low.

“It just feels like a petty fee,” she said.

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