Two Views: Neighbors, composting firm look for way out of smelly problem

How can we build a more sustainable future together?

It’s a question that’s driving a lot of important work all across our region right now. Local families are recycling — and composting — more than ever. Renewable energy is becoming a more important part of our lives. And Oregonians of all ages are increasingly aware that the choices we make today affect the world we’ll live in tomorrow.

That’s why it’s such an important time to be part of building one of America’s most innovative composting programs.

Nature’s Needs is a 100 percent employee-owned green and sustainable composting operation that’s been serving North Plains and neighboring communities for more than a decade. We process about 35,000 tons of yard trimming and land clearing materials each year.

Our work is one part of the sustainability movement that’s striving to make sure Oregon is a place where future generations can count on a healthy environment and a great quality of life.

To get there, Nature’s Needs — just like families and small businesses across the region — has taken steps necessary to reduce our impact on the environment. Our leading-edge composting program is taking tons of solid waste out of area landfills each and every year.

Composting is also key to a more sustainable future because it greatly reduces methane emissions — a major source of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The organic compost products produced by Nature’s Needs are used as soil amendments in landscape yards, orchards and vineyards all over Oregon. So while we’re building a more sustainable future, we’re also making significant contributions to the local economy and to the positive quality of life to families throughout our region.

The road to a sustainable future hasn’t always been a smooth one and everybody at Nature’s Needs realizes that we’ve had an impact on the North Plains community. Where we’ve made mistakes, we’ve apologized and taken steps to do better. Conversations with local residents and Washington County officials have helped us develop an aggressive plan to address your concerns.

The No. 1 concern we’ve heard voiced by local residents has to do with odors caused by food waste. That’s why in the coming weeks — under the direction of Washington County — we’ll make a fundamental change at our facility by phasing out all commercial food waste. This brings our demonstration project to an end and eliminates the largest source of odors — reducing our food waste processing by nearly 90 percent.

Nature’s Needs will also be adjusting our operations to shift more odorous activities to times of the day, including evening hours, when we will have the least impact to our neighbors. This is in direct response to feedback from local small businesses and families about odor issues during daytime hours and mirrors steps taken by other local companies to shift their hours of operations.

In addition, we’ve worked closely with Washington County to create an objective, third-party odor monitoring program. This new approach is designed to guarantee timely identification and response to all odor problems.

It’s important to note that from here on out, we’ll be working very closely with Washington County and the local community to make sure that odors are minimized as much as possible. Our three-step action plan means that the odor issues of the past will not continue into the future.

As we implement these innovative changes we are committed to helping the communities in which we operate to get it right. Every time a local family composts instead of throwing away, whenever schoolchildren learn a little more about recycling, and every day someone chooses to bike to work instead of drive, we’re all doing our part to build a more sustainable future.

I think that is why several groups involved in environmental protection and recycling have written to the County to support the extension of our permit ... and why scores of people from Washington County have gone on record saying that we should be given seven more months of operation to demonstrate that this important composting facility can operate in a responsible manner.

Because, in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Everybody at Nature’s Needs realizes that in our own work, there have been times when we’ve missed the mark. But we’re learning more and more every day how best to build the environmental legacy that we all want to leave to future generations.

We believe that community feedback, close cooperation with Washington County and the city of North Plains and our aggressive action plan will all help us be both a better neighbor and a better contributor to a world that’s moving toward the sustainability that’s crucial to all our futures.

Paul Yamamoto is the vice president and general manager of Recology Environmental Solutions Inc. in North Plains.

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