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Waste not, want not

Clackamas County encourages LO businesses to compost


Clackamas County urges businesses to sift through their trash in an effort to make the county more environmentally friendly through a commercial composting program.by: SHANNON MARTIN - Clackamas County's We Compost Progam will train employees and kitchen staff to compost food scraps, paper products and organic material.

Over the last several years, Clackamas County has paired with the city of Lake Oswego and its collection provider Allied Waste to develop the We Compost Program. The voluntary program provides training and resources for businesses to compost food scraps, food-soiled paper and other organic waste into compost used by home gardeners and the agriculture industry, instead of filling up a landfill.

Shannon Martin, Clackamas County sustainability analyst, said the county hopes to get the program “up and running” by providing free technical assistance. The program provides free training materials, internal containers and collection coordination with Allied Waste to participating businesses.

Martin said the city of Lake Oswego has pioneered composting efforts within the county by not only being the first city to offer commercial composting in partnership with Allied Waste — but by providing financial incentives for businesses.

In November, 2010 Lake Oswego city council approved a program that granted a 4 percent reduction in trash fees for commercial customers that opt into the commercial compost program. Martin said the reduced rates help make composting “pencil out” so costs do not increase for businesses.

“The main reason why local governments are concentrating on commercial composting is because when the material goes to the landfill it generates methane gas,” Martin said. “Methane is a greenhouse gas, which is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Removing food from the waste stream significantly reduces the global warming impact from landfills.”

The campaign was introduced to West Linn this summer and will launch in Canby in January. Organizers are continuing to encourage Lake Oswego restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, schools, hotels and more to participate.

Sustainable operations

To date, approximately 20 Lake Oswego businesses, including Bon Appetit, Walmart, Albertsons and Mary’s Woods, the city of Lake Oswego and the Lake Oswego School District are participating in the program.

Kerry Ruff-Harcourt, director of dining services at Mary’s Woods, said the kitchen at the retirement community has participated in the composting program for nine months.

“We were looking for ways of operating in a more sustainable fashion,” Ruff-Harcourt said. “Before we used to take the food waste and throw it in with the general trash in the trash compactor, which went to a landfill.”

A sustainability team from Clackamas County trained Ruff-Harcourt’s staff of about 16 to sort compostable products and provided the facility with indoor collection retainers. Today, the commercial kitchen which serves about 650 meals per day, collects products such as food scraps and napkins for compost.

Mary’s Woods kitchen staff collects the compostable material in cans inside the kitchen and then disposes of it in a two-yard Dumpster — about three feet deep and six feet long — outside that is picked Tuesday and Friday mornings by Allied Waste.

Ruff-Harcourt said his staff faced “a little bit of a learning curve” at first but has since adapted to new kitchen procedures. He said composting has added some extra work for employees, but Mary’s Woods hasn’t needed to hire new staff or adjust scheduling because of the extra time spent.

“It’s been working out pretty good,” Ruff-Harcourt said.

The compost containers haven’t produced foul odors or attracted rodents. If anything, Ruff-Harcourt said, the lack of compost material in the trash compactor — which is only picked up twice a month — has cut down on foul outside odors.

Ruff-Harcourt estimates that three yards of compost material is collected from Mary’s Woods each week. He said the extra collection truck from Allied Waste hasn’t caused “any hiccups in operations.”

“Composting allows us to go a little longer between trash pickups,” he said. “That offsets the cost of having the compost picked up. But I don’t know if it’s a dollar-for-dollar trade off.”

Trade off or not, Ruff-Harcourt encourages other businesses to participate, if not look into, the commercial composting program.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “It depends on the size of your operation and how much waste you generate but it’s worth it for a business to explore. I think it works for us.”

Countywide effort

Roughly 34,000 tons of food scraps and food-soiled paper enter the commercial waste stream each year in Clackamas County.

Through the We Compost Program, businesses are able to compost all food items — including meat, fish and bones — uncoated food-soiled paper and yard trimmings and plants. Liquids, grease, cooking oil and non-biodegradable items such as plastic and styrofoam cannot be composted.

Collections from Clackamas County are taken to Pacific Region Compost in Corvallis where it is turned into nutrient rich compost and sold to both businesses and residential consumers.

Martin said local grocery stores have been the leaders of the program, which overall has been successful and an easy transition for most businesses. He added that Clackamas County is slowly introducing the program to ensure businesses are efficiently composting.

“We make the process very simple and give businesses all the resources they need to be successful,” he said. “Our goal is to ensure costs and labor does not increase for businesses. Some businesses have been saving money, for some, the cost is neutral.”

The program is not without obstacles. Martin said. Some businesses, especially in downtown Lake Oswego, have little to no room for additional collection retainers. Perceptions of increased odor and rodents have also inhibited businesses from participating. The biggest obstacle Martin said, is property managers refusing to allow their tenants additional collection space and services.

To combat these obstacles, Martin continues to reach out to the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, business owners and property managers on behalf of Clackamas County.

“Sometimes we have to get really creative to make this work...” he said. “The goal is definitely to get every business in Clackamas County participating. Once there is additional capacity we want to evaluate what we can do about residential collection. But that’s a long ways out.”

Interested businesses are encouraged to contact their property’s manager before contacting representatives with Clackamas County. Businesses will be provided with pricing details based upon the number and size of collection containers and frequency of collection.

For more information about the We Compost Program, visit clackamas.us/sustainability or contact Shannon Martin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-742-4458.