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Food Scrap Curbside Collection Pilot: the first step toward citywide curbside composting

BPS E-News Issue 4

This spring, 2,000 Portland households will be selected to participate in a pilot for weekly food scrap curbside collection. While Portlanders already lead the nation in recycling, most of our food waste still goes to the landfill. This pilot is an essential step in implementing Phase II of the Portland Recycles! Plan and brings Portland in line with other major West Coast communities like Seattle and San Francisco by offering residents curbside collection of food scraps.

Along with the addition of weekly food scrap collection, the City will also test a change to the standard weekly collection of garbage. The City is interested in determining if fewer weekly collections helps reduce emissions from trucks and creates a more efficient system overall.

Two thousand households (specific neighborhoods to be confirmed within a couple weeks) will start the pilot this spring and continue for approximately one year. During this test period, the new system will be evaluated for convenience and the increase in the amount of material Portland residents can divert from their garbage. Participant feedback will be collected, analyzed and used to design and develop the city-wide rollout scheduled for next year.

Households that take part in the pilot phase will receive information by mail and a notice on their garbage container prior to the start of the program. Each participating household will also receive a toolkit, which includes a new kitchen pail for food scrap collection and plenty of easy-to-understand instructions on how to use the new system.

Portland residents strongly support this effort

The City surveyed Portland residents when these changes were proposed in the Portland Recycles! Plan in 2007 and nearly 6,000 residents responded. Of those, 67 percent supported adding food scraps to the yard debris cart and 58 percent felt that every-other-week garbage collection would meet their needs. Since this survey, Portlanders have expressed great enthusiasm for getting on board with curbside food scrap collection, and we are excited to roll out this important pilot phase.


Food scrap curbside collection is great for the environment
Compostable food and food-soiled paper account for almost 30 percent of Portland residents’ garbage. This equals approximately 34,000 tons of unnecessary household garbage every year. In the landfill, this waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. Instead, all of this waste can be composted and transformed into a valuable product. Composting food waste does not produce methane so it helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produces a valuable agricultural product for better soils and gardens.

Composted food scraps become a valuable source of soil nutrients

The food scraps and food-soiled paper will go to a commercial composting facility with specialized processes that break down the organic matter in just four weeks. After another four weeks of “curing,” compost from the facility is sold as bagged compost product or in bulk to landscapers and the public. This final product is a nutrient-rich soil amendment, which helps plants grow, prevents erosion, retains water, suppresses plant disease and blocks weeds.

Throw all your food scraps into the green Portland Composts! roll cart

As part of the pilot, all food will be composted, including meat, bones, poultry, seafood, dairy, bread, fruits and vegetables, eggshells, baked goods, rice, beans, pasta, coffee grounds and other plate scrapings. Food-soiled paper, such as napkins and cardboard pizza boxes, can also be placed in the compost cart. Residents should not include liquids, oils, grease or contaminants such as metal, plastic, glass, pet waste, treated wood or other garbage.

Yard debris still goes in the green Portland Composts! roll cart as well. This includes: weeds, leaves, vines, grass and branches less than 4 inches thick and 36 inches long.

The pilot program will test the following changes to the Curbside Recycling and Garbage System:
•    Green Portland Composts! Roll Cart — (New!) The green roll cart will be collected every week for yard debris, and for the first time food scraps can be added to the green cart.
•    Garbage — (New!) The garbage container will be collected every-other-week.
•    Blue Portland Recycles! Roll Cart and Yellow Glass Recycling Bin — The blue recycling roll cart and yellow bin will be collected for recycling on the normal day. Remember to place them at the curb only if they are at least half full.

Every-other-week garbage service is worth testing

Getting the compostable food scraps and food-soiled paper out of the garbage will significantly reduce the amount left in the waste stream, so most residents will not need garbage collection every week. With food moving to the green yard debris cart, it will be important to collect these carts every week. The system aims at better recycling and composting while remaining affordable for everyone. Cities like Olympia and Renton, Wash., have had success with shifting to every-other-week garbage collection. It has decreased overall collection expenses, increased recycling, reduced garbage that goes to the landfill and created more local jobs. Portland is a good candidate for this innovative approach to curbside collection, and we appreciate the residents who will be involved in the pilot for sharing their experiences.

Portland already composts food scraps for businesses through the Portland Composts! Program

Food-generating businesses in Portland have been composting food for the past five years through the Portland Composts! Program. More than 450 businesses are actively participating, sending 10,000 tons of food scraps to compost each year.

Local solid waste stats:

•    Based on 2008 data (the most current at this time), 463,700 tons of garbage were sent to landfill (includes 116,800 tons from the residential sector and 346,900 tons from the commercial sector). This equals 1,270 tons/day.

•    Approximately one ton of CO2-equivalent emissions is prevented for each ton of food scraps diverted from landfill. A fully implemented residential program (assuming close to 100 percent participation and 60 percent capture of available food scraps) would prevent about 15,000 to 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.

•    The average Portland household disposes of 1,326 pounds of garbage per year.

•    75 percent of what is still left in the garbage could be become productive by being recycled or composted.

Stay tuned as we announce the participating neighborhoods and make progress on the pilot!