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April 13th, 2011 BETH SLOVIC | City Hall
 

Kicked To The Curb

Why green Portland doesn’t recycle food waste citywide yet.

news4_peel_3723IMAGE: carolynann.net
A pilot program in Portland to collect food waste separately from residential garbage won’t expand to include the entire city this spring as expected.

Two new Portland garbage transfer facilities to handle the extra stream of waste aren’t quite ready to accept the table scraps.

But a larger issue—one familiar to residents of leafy city streets, where Mayor Sam Adams recently proposed new collection fees—also remains unresolved. Would Portlanders be willing to pay more for garbage service to fund this new program? Or, to divert food waste from the city’s garbage stream without creating significant new costs, would Portlanders be willing to forgo once-a-week garbage pick-up?

“That’s one of the big policy questions,” says Bruce Walker, a solid waste and recycling program manager with Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “We want to make sure if we’re making a big step that we’ve gotten that final direction from City Council.”

A survey to answer those questions went to the 2,000 residents in Portland’s four pilot neighborhoods—Richmond, Arnold Creek, Hazelwood/Centennial and Roseway—last week. 

Residents have until April 25 to respond. Then Adams and city commissioners will weigh those answers against the rising cost of garbage service, which is likely to increase an undetermined amount in 2012 even before factoring in expansion of food-waste pick-up to all Portland neighborhoods.

“I start out with the preference of not wanting to increase fees,” Adams says. 

One already enthusiastic supporter of expanding the pilot that began in April 2010 is Rachel Lipsey, a 35-year-old resident of the Richmond neighborhood who provides catering on the set of the TNT television series Leverage. 

As a result of her work, some of which she performs in her Southeast Portland home, Lipsey says she generates significant amounts of food waste like egg shells and coffee grinds that no longer must go into her garbage can.

Instead, under the program, Lipsey and other participants toss everything from fish bones to pizza delivery boxes and tea bags into their green rolling carts for yard debris. 

As part of the pilot, yard debris mixed with food waste gets picked up from residents in the four neighborhoods once a week. In the rest of the city, yard debris gets picked up once every two weeks. (The more frequent service is intended to prevent smells from the food waste.)

Lipsey says foul odors haven’t been a problem for her except once last summer when she forgot to take her can to the curb. Her household garbage has decreased so dramatically, she’s considered switching to once-a-month pick-up. “There’s just no garbage,” she says.

In San Francisco, where residents started mixing food waste with yard debris in 2009 under a city mandate, the city also still collects garbage weekly. Portland officials say that’s not ideal, however, and not just because of the added cost.

“If you still have your garbage picked up weekly, why would I need to change my habits?” Walker says.

By weight, food waste accounts for 30 percent of household garbage, since leftovers tend to be denser than other household waste, says Walker.

If Portland were to keep weekly garbage service and increase the frequency of yard debris pick-up to accommodate the new food-waste program, city residents would be looking at an annual garbage bill increase of $48 to $60, or as much as 19 percent.

Though city officials anticipated they would have the new food-waste program up and running in all of Portland by this spring, they remain optimistic that 2012 seems a more realistic goal.

“Without question we want to expand and recover food waste and give residents an opportunity to put that to better use,” Walker says. 

 
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