Food scrap recycling catching on in Oregon

SALEM — Employees at Cascade Baking Co. wheeled out Salem's first food waste bin last week as part of a pilot project that could soon bring food recycling to every curb in the city.

Stephen Perkins, the owner of Cascade Baking Co., practically giggled as he watched the truck pick up the beige bin full of flour, paper towels, parchment paper and dough. Before the program, he put those materials in the trash.

"Isn't it weird you get excited about something as silly as compost?" he said.

He isn't alone. Residents, business owners and several cities throughout Oregon are asking for food waste recycling, said Robin Murbach with Allied Waste, one of the largest waste management companies in the country.

That's what prompted Allied to apply for a permit to compost the materials at its site near Corvallis and launch the pilot program.

In Marion County, food waste accounts for about 20 percent of the trash that isn't recycled, according to a recent solid-waste management plan.

Portland, Corvallis and now Salem offer limited commercial food-waste recycling, and Portland soon will launch a pilot program for residents.

Salem garbage haulers and city staffers are talking about the possibility of offering food-waste composting citywide as soon as May.

Currently, Salem residents can recycle fruit and vegetable scraps in their yard debris bins. The new program, if adopted by the City Council, could allow resident to add meat, dairy, bread, compostable food containers and food-soiled paper to their yard waste bins. So just about anything would go, from leftover steak to grease-stained pizza boxes.

"It's great for our environment and some of the goals the community has set for sustainability," said Kacey Duncan, the city's franchise administrator.

Duncan is working closely with Allied Waste and the other haulers to develop a presentation for the City Council next month.

Dozens of West Coast cities, including Olympia, Wash., and San Francisco, already offer residential food-waste recycling.

Olympia's organic recycling, which includes food and yard waste, increased by about 15 percent since the program started two years ago.

But more than half of those who signed up for the service don't put meat or dairy in the bin for fear of odors and pests.

"Certainly the 'ick' factor plays a part in curbside food-waste collection," said John Jones with the city of Olympia.

Olympia collects its waste once every two weeks, and some residents think that's too long for bins full of loose food to sit.

Duncan called several cities including Olympia to get information about the best approaches and how to reduce the "ick" factor.

Salem could continue its once-per-week collection to eliminate pest and odor concerns, he said.

The new service could come with a slight increase in rates, depending on tipping fees and transportation costs.

The site near Corvallis holds the only permit in the state to handle the complete spectrum of food waste. The permit is only temporary, but the company expects to have a full-fledged permit by April.

That means Salem might have to shift some of its current yard waste recycling from Aumsville to Corvallis if it goes with Allied Waste.

The Aumsville site also is in the midst of applying for a food-waste recycling permit, and representatives expect one within a matter of months, said Paul Yamamoto with Recology, the largest food-waste recycling company on the West Coast.

Duncan plans to present options to the City Council on March 22. A series of work sessions, public hearings and meetings likely will follow before the council makes its final decision.

In the meantime, the pilot program continues with Cascade Baking Co. and Salem Conference Center. Soon, Salem Saturday Market and a handful of schools might join the list.

Perkins is doing his part by promoting the program to other downtown businesses.

"It's so easy," he said, "just put the food in the bucket and ignore it."

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