Portland to test food waste pickup

PORTLAND — This city is getting ready to test a residential food waste pickup plan.

Seattle and San Francisco are among cities already including dinner scrapings, meat, coffee grounds and other food scraps in curbside pickup.

The goal is to transform the waste into compost, but the issue of exactly where to do that is still a little tricky for Portland.

And the city is planning to shift garbage collection from weekly to once every two weeks to help cover the extra cost of picking up the food-and-yard-waste cart weekly. Based on other cities' experiences, those changes may jolt customers.

"We're coming right into their kitchen saying, 'Please change your habits,'" says Bruce Walker, Portland's solid waste and recycling manager.

That's why the city will test food waste pickup with 2,000 Portland homes starting in April. Details of the pilot program are being ironed out in advance of Mayor Sam Adams' state of the city speech today, Walker said. The test likely will be spread over several neighborhoods and haulers before expanding to Portland's 145,000 single-family and duplex homes.

For Portland to go beyond a pilot program to full-fledged curbside recycling of food waste, it needs a compost processor to open closer than the Seattle area, where the city's limited commercial food-scrap collections go now.

However, the area's best local prospect for a big, economical place to compost tons of food waste along with yard debris — Nature's Needs in Washington County — is opposed by the city of North Plains, which worries about increased stench.

"I'm hopeful, but we still need some puzzle pieces to snap in place," Walker said.

During the test, haulers will pick up garbage every other week, recycling carts either every week or every other week, and the food-and-yard-waste cart weekly.

The city has long hoped to move to residential food waste recycling, as well as expand collections from restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias and other businesses. But it held off because Cedar Grove, the Seattle composter, couldn't find a spot for a compost plant in the Portland area or nearby.

In the last year, the outlook has changed, with waste companies pursuing three Oregon sites for composting food waste.

Recology, which handles San Francisco's garbage, recycling and food waste, purchased Nature's Needs and another yard-waste compost site in Aumsville, southeast of Salem, as well as transfer sites.

Allied Waste, a national garbage company, has applied to Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality and Benton County for permission to accept food waste at its yard-waste composting facility north of Corvallis.

The Allied Waste site is the most remote and appears to be facing little opposition. But it's also the farthest from Portland.

Recology's North Plains and Aumsville sites face concerns from neighbors. The 12-year-old Nature's Needs composting facility has a long history of odor complaints under previous owners, North Plains City Manager Don Otterman said, and a long history of broken promises about controlling odors.

"We've had people complain that they can't open their windows in the summer," Otterman said. Recology says it called in two consultants to make improvements on the 66-acre site that will cut odors. The changes include building more berms around the site, aerating composting to prevent rot and buying backup heavy equipment so the waste still gets processed if machinery breaks down.

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