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Waste not, want not: County encourages WL businesses to compost

by: SHANNON MARTIN -  Kitchen staff at Market of Choice in West Linn compost food items, paper items and organic material. Clackamas County urges businesses to sift through their trash in an effort to make the county more environmentally friendly through a commercial composting program.

Over the past several years, Clackamas County has paired with the city of West Linn and its collection provider, West Linn Refuse and Recycling, to develop the We Compost Program, which officially launched in June.

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 West Linn Refuse and Recycling to participating businesses.

Martin said the city of West Linn and West Linn Refuse and Recycling has pioneered composting efforts within the county by not only offering commercial composting — but by providing financial incentives for businesses.

West Linn businesses receive a 5 percent reduction in compost 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 first introduced to Lake Oswego in November 2011 and will launch in Canby in January. Organizers are continuing to encourage West Linn restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, schools, hotels and more to participate.

To date, approximately six businesses, including Market of Choice, Walmart — which has almost reduced their garbage tonnage by half, according to Martin — Linn City Pub, Round Table Pizza and Bolton Primary School are participating in the program.

Sustainable operations

Linn City Pub has participated in the commercial composting program for eight months. Owner Brad Rake said he was approached by Martin, who then organized composting services through the business’s property manager.

“Linn City Pub is participating because its property manager was willing to modify service,” Martin said. “Now we are looking at additional opportunities to reduce costs because it is easier to manage the leftover trash.”

“Finances weren’t a factor for us, but the decision was simple,” Rake said. “It’s good for the environment and it’s so easy to do.’

Martin trained Rake’s staff to sort through the trash. On average, Linn City Pub produces about 300 meals a day. The pub’s two dishwashers are primarily responsible for composting efforts.

The dishwashers sort compostable items like food scraps, organic matter and paper napkins into indoor collection retainers that are provided by Clackamas County. The containers are then poured into an outdoor 2-yard Dumpster — about 3 feet deep and 6 feet long, which was provided and is picked up once a week by West Linn Refuse and Recycling.

Rake said his business hasn’t had any issues with foul odors — inside or outside the building — and that he encourages other West Linn businesses to participate.

“It’s really just that simple,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you?”

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 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 West Linn 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 on 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.

by: SHANNON MARTIN - Employees from Clackamas County train kitchen staff, like the employee pictured here from Market Of Choice, to compost.

Donate the best, compost the rest

Clackamas County encourages businesses to donate high-quality leftover food to organizations like the West Linn Food Pantry and Metro’s Fork it Over food donation program before composting the food.

For more information about the West Linn Food Pantry, visit westlinnfoodpantry.com. For more information about Fork it Over, visit forkitover.org.