Portland offers curbside food composting update

Portland offers curbside food composting update

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

In late October last year, the city of Portland, Oregon launched a new curbside food scrap collection service. About six months later, city officials say the program is working well, but there are still a few kinks to work out.

Portland's adoption of its food composting program is part of the Portland Recycles! plan. Adopted by City Council in 2007 and updated the following year, the plan calls for the city to recover 75 percent of all waste it generates by 2015.

"We've been pretty happy with the results to date," says Lisa Libby, planning and sustainability director for Portland Mayor Sam Adams, of the new composting service. "We're in good shape to have the program succeed."

When Portland launched the composting service, it also reduced curbside garbage collection to every other week. Since then, garbage haulers have reported a 44-percent decrease in the amount of residential garbage collected, diverting almost 1,800 truckloads of material from landfills. According to figures from the city, 23,052 tons of residential garbage were collected in the first quarter of 2011. For the same time period of this year, only 12,902 tons were collected.

Before launching its composting program, Portland already had a yard clipping service in place. With both services, the city expects to collect 89,000 tons of organic material this year. This number is nearly three times the 30,305 tons that was collected in 2010.

"I think the challenge for folks has been trying to imagine what it's like to have every-other-week garbage collection and adapt to that system," says Libby. However, once they got used to putting their food bones, pizza boxes and other items in the compost they realized how much space that was taking up in their garbage, she says.

Portland is also recycling more. According to figures from the city, residents put 12,119 tons of materials in their recycling bins in the first quarter of 2011. For the first quarter of this year, 13,516 tons were collected.

However, the city is having problems with some residents who contaminate the recycling stream by placing improper items in their recycling bin. Since March, the city has mailed over 1,200 letters to households where garbage has been found in the wrong roll cart on collection day.

Libby says that the city wants to work with these residents, which are less than 1 percent of the city, to resolve any issues.

"Some folks are putting polystyrene in recycling bins not realizing that that's not recyclable, but other folks are more blatant and putting garbage in the recycling," she says.

Libby also says that if the problems persist, the city will begin looking into fining residents who continue to contaminate the recycling stream.

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