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Sustainability at Work

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Phone: 503-823-7037


Composting: How, Why and FAQs


As of March 1, 2015, only food scraps are accepted in Portland’s business compost program. Items such as waxed or regular cardboard, compostable serviceware, paper towels and other paper products are no longer accepted. All food scraps with “more than a trivial amount” of any non-food item will be sent to the landfill. Coffee filters, tea bags, and BPI-certified compostable bags are the only non-food items allowed.

** Note: Portland’s residential program will not be changing. The list of materials residents can place in their home green composting roll cart will remain the same.

Resources and assistance

Sustainability at Work staff are here to help you set up composting and train employees. Due to the March 2015 change to food-only for businesses, please make sure you have the most current composting stickers and posters, and that employees are aware of the food-only guidelines.

Contact us for:

  • Posters and stickers to label containers and educate employees and customers.
  • On-site training for your staff.

Need to educate customers or staff about the new food-only guidelines? Contact us for:

  • A printed flyer announcing change to food-only.
  • Talking points to communicate changes to employees and customers.

posters and stickers    flyer

Why composting is important

Food scraps become energy and fertilizerYour food scraps become biogas, which provides electricity for local homes and businesses.

They’ll also become fertilizer, adding nutrients to soil at local farms and gardens.

Your ongoing participation in the composting program is critical to maintain a stable regional business composting program that we can all count on for years to come.

Why the change?

  • As the business compost program has grown, so has the volume of non-food items. These non-food items have reached such a quantity that they are very difficult to handle at local processing facilities.

  • The bio-methane and composting facilities that process food scraps from Metro Central Transfer Station will have much greater certainty that they will receive the quality of raw materials they need to manufacture their products in a cost-effective manner.

  • Continuing to include non-food items puts the entire business compost program at risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

compostable bagsAre compostable bags still okay?

Yes, but only if they are BPI-certified compostable

papersWhat about paper towels and food-soiled paper?

These items are not allowed in the new food scrap only system, as the processing facilities cannot effectively handle high volumes of non-food items.

Are any amount of non-food items allowed?

Coffee filters, tea bags, and BPI-certified compostable bags are the only non-food items allowed. If you provide compost collection containers for staff or customers, we can help you update your signage to make it clear that only food is accepted.

disposable servicewareWhat’s the greenest disposable serviceware?

There’s no absolute best product, but weighing the pros and cons of different options will help you make an informed decision that’s right for you and your situation. One tip: look for products made with a high percentage of recycled content.

Reusable dishware - even if only offered to customers for on-site use – is the best environmental choice. Learn why, and how to make the switch.

Learn more:

yard debrisYard debris and paper are allowed in my green composting roll cart at home, so why aren’t they allowed here?

Compostable materials from homes go to a different facility than commercial food scraps. The facility processing residential food scraps is able to accept yard debris and limited paper products but is not permitted to process commercial materials. 

Do you expect to expand what is accepted in the future?

Metro has no plans to accept more than food scraps at this time.

Are my garbage rates going to increase because of this program change?

The City of Portland does not set garbage rates for businesses. Call your garbage and recycling company to find out if there will be any change to your service costs.

What should I do if I need to adjust my service levels?

Call your garbage and recycling company if you anticipate needing different sized containers or a different collection schedule.

Who does what in Portland’s composting system?

  • Metro: This regional government body makes the decisions about which facilities our compost, recycling and garbage go to. Metro also oversees the area’s waste transfer stations, where compost, recycling and trash are consolidated before going to their respective processing facilities. The November 1, 2014 and March 1, 2015 deadlines have been set by Metro. The new guidelines will be enforced at the transfer station: after the deadlines, contaminated compost loads will be sent to the landfill.

  • The City of Portland: The City works with the garbage, recycling, and compost haulers to provide the best service possible through this transition. The City also offers assistance and resources to businesses to support food-scrap collection.

  • Garbage, recycling and compost haulers: Your hauler can help you adjust your service levels – size of waste containers and frequency of pick-up – as you adjust to the new guidelines. Your hauler can also provide feedback about levels of contamination (non-food items in your compost). If your hauler’s compost load is rejected due to contamination, it will be sent to the landfill and charged at the higher garbage rate fees.

  • Property managers and tenants: If you lease your space and your property manager or building owner contracts directly with the hauler, you may need to work with your property manager to adjust your service levels. They may also relay contamination feedback from the hauler.

  • Sustainability at Work: Our advisors assist businesses with this transition through updated signage, help with retraining staff, and phone and onsite assistance.

  • Businesses: Operations Managers and Green Team leaders play a critical role in making these changes happen by communicating changes to staff and assuring the changes are fully implemented by Metro’s deadlines (November 1, 2014 for cardboard; March 1, 2015 for all non-food items). Sustainability at Work staff are here to help with updated signage, as well as phone and onsite assistance. 

Quick links

2015 Flyer About Changes

Download (PDF Document, 531kb)

2015 Letter from City of Portland

Download (PDF Document, 379kb)

2014 Letter from Metro

Download (PDF Document, 649kb)

2014 Letter from City of Portland

Download (PDF Document, 201kb)