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Recyclers ask to have food waste separated

Food waste recycling would be just for commercial businesses now, but residential is coming

A new phase in recycling Oregon waste is gaining popularity - at least in the metro area.

While organic waste (yard debris) recycling has been the norm in many cities for a decade, recyclers now want to stop placing other organics (food waste) in the state's landfills.

Instead, they want to compost it and use it as a soil amendment for gardeners.

Hoodview Disposal and Recycling approached the Sandy City Council in a workshop prior to its most recent meeting, asking to begin collecting food waste separate from the landfill stream (garbage).

The council gave the idea a general-consensus 'yes.'

Speaking to the council was Steve Donovan, a Tigard consultant employed by Hoodview, whose owner, Fred Kahut, was present but did not speak publicly.

Donovan said Hoodview was going to take a more conservative approach, not acting in the same manner as the city of Portland, which mandated residential food waste recycling last week at the same time it reduced by half the number of trash collections each month.

Instead, Hoodview proposes to begin the program by collecting food waste only from commercial establishments such as grocery stores, restaurants and schools. Donovan also said the program would be voluntary until it becomes popular or is mandated by county or state government or the Department of Environmental Quality.

Donovan said it could be difficult to get this program started because it requires another separation of waste products, which might require another employee in the case of large businesses.

However, there are businesses that have a stated goal or mission to be environmentally clean, reducing unrecycled waste to zero within a stated time period. Donovan cited Burgerville as an example.

For its part, Hoodview is tailoring the program to the specific needs of each volunteer company.

'We'll provide these customers with containers for their needs,' he told the council. 'And we'll tailor the program to fit their needs. And to give them an incentive, we'll price (pickups) at 95 percent of their garbage-service cost.'

That could mean once-weekly pickups or daily pickups. Or it could mean three small containers or six large containers.

Donovan admitted the saving in 'carbon footprint' might be very small for a while - until the program becomes mandatory and more Type-3 composting stations are built that can take food waste - which could contain human pathogens.

As it is now, Hoodview will truck the waste to a transfer station in North Portland, where the organic waste will be transferred to another truck for the trip to Aumsville west of Salem to a Type-3 composting station.

Type-3 composting stations, which handle materials at a high risk of containing human pathogens, require a 'higher level of engineering, care and regulation.'

Donovan said those three words mean higher costs.

For example, a Type-1 facility to compost yard debris charges about $12 per ton, while a Type-3 facility charges $40 per ton.

A mixture of yard debris and food waste is good, Donovan said, because it's necessary for complete and quick composting to have both carbon and nitrogen in the mix, which come from separate sources.

The composting stations, according to Donovan, are 'bioreactors,' using a secret 'recipe' for composting that includes many ingredients besides organic waste and food waste. In fact, there are different composting recipes for different types of organic waste.

If a residential program is proposed in the future, Donovan said it would require much more planning.

'If we (later) consider a residential program in Sandy,' he said, 'it would be expensive, and we would have to think long and hard about how we do that. We're not proposing that now, but it's coming.'

Donovan gave a little insight to that eventual program. Customers would be given a two-gallon covered container to keep in the kitchen. At week's end the homeowner would dump the food waste into the yard debris cart, which would have its contents (yard debris and food waste) taken to a Type-3 composter.

'This will take education and training for the customers,' he said. 'And it will cost more. But within one or two years curbside food-waste recycling programs are going to be pretty much (universal).'

Regarding the political side of recycling and composting, Donovan admitted it's difficult to site a new facility anywhere near residential or commercial areas.

Because of that difficulty, much more transportation is required because composting sites are only welcome in remote, rural areas.

'If we're driving this stuff all over (the state),' he said, 'where is the environmental value? We're polluting the air more (with truck exhaust) than with the landfill gas we're saving.'

To move forward, Hoodview would keep rates the same, gain voluntary participation, distribute containers and begin pickups to meet each business' needs.

'We think this is a smart enough idea that we'd like to go out and make it work,' he said. 'And then we'd like to report back to (the council) in about six months to let you know how it is doing.'