Several weeks ago, The Oregonian published an article documenting the progress of Portland’s curbside composting program based on responses from over 500 readers. The food scrap program, which began this past October 31st, has haulers collecting yard debris mixed with food waste once a week and garbage every other week. This reduction in service and collection regulation has elicited much local response – both positive and negative. Of the 500+ people surveyed about the program, 55% supported the system while the other 45% opposed the change. In hopes of accommodating Portlanders’ concerns and questions, Portland officials established a composting hotline at the number 503-823-7202.
As a member of my company’s green committee for 9 years, I have been at the front lines of answering questions regarding our office composting program which our commercial hauler delivers to the same facility as the residential curbside scraps. One of the most common question deals with compostable containers. People often get lunch at the cart pods and are served in containers intended to be compostable. Unfortunately, only a handful of the containers that are used by local merchants can be composted because of their ingredients. The high temperatures needed to break down scrap to rich soil amendment, varies by facility and the containers break down at different rates. Currently Portland’s curbside program does not accept any compostable containers. This is also the case for compostable plastic takeout containers, utensils and standard paper plates and cups. Composting your company’s food waste, which often includes coffee grounds/filters, lunch leftovers and perhaps some stale donuts can be easily coordinated through the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Composting and recycling at the office can gain your business recognition through the agency’s Recycle at Work Certification program.
A number of the negative survey responses dealt with the inconvenience and the odors that stemmed from collecting food scraps in the ubiquitous brown pail. To curtail odors people have advised lining the pails with newspapers, paper bags and compostable pail liners that you can purchase locally. Also, particularly foul smells like raw meat or grease can be kept in the refrigerator in a separate container until your compost pickup day. Sprinkling baking soda in the pail, regardless of lining or not, has also proved to be beneficial in soaking up smells. Disposing of your scraps to the large outdoor pail frequently is really the best policy.
The web site, portlandcomposts.com, set up by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, is a valuable source of information for “including the food”. My current favorite is the e-schedule, which allows you to check the collection schedule by your address and sign up for a weekly reminder. The site also features an online service comment form, program information and disposal locations for items not acceptable at curbside.
Ideally as the program progresses and public comment is evaluated, the critics upset by what they see as lack of flexibility and planning by the City Council will find value in the service. With Portland hitting a plateau in recycling rates in 2006 after being a national recycling leader for more than 20 years, the composting program was the next identifiable step in waste prevention. The curbside compost program is part of the overall garbage and recycling initiative plan who’s goal is to recycle 75% of Portland’s waste by 2015, reduce toxics and greenhouse gases and allow zero future growth in the City’s waste system.