While efforts continue to improve what’s collectively called the “recovery rate,” the region still generates about one million tons of garbage each year – that is, the stuff that isn’t reused, recycled, composted or used to make energy. Much of that garbage gets sent to landfills as far as 150 miles away for burial. It’s all set up in a contract Metro holds with Waste Management, and that contract expires at the end of 2019.
What happens after that is up for discussion – and that discussion is starting. The Metro Council will be considering a range of options for managing the region’s waste after 2019. At two public work sessions later this month, the Metro Council will help define further direction on what to do with the region’s food scraps and other items that could do a lot more for the region than sit in a landfill and decompose.
Food scraps make up nearly a fifth of what we toss every day
Thanks to wide participation of businesses and residents, more of the region’s food scraps are being composted and converted to energy than ever before. But food remains the single largest component of the stuff we’re throwing away. About 18 percent of what the Metro region sends to landfills is food, enough to fill 5,000 long-haul trucks each year.
Food scraps could generate energy in the region, feed local farmland and reduce the carbon pollution that landfills produce. But harnessing food scraps as a resource is complicated.
The science that transforms food scraps into electricity, fuels and other useful byproducts is called anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion facilities, as well as composting facilities, already operate throughout the Northwest. But some of those facilities are located up to 300 miles from Portland, making transportation a factor in weighing the benefits of diverting the food scraps in the first place. Economic and other barriers to collecting food scraps from homes and businesses would need to be addressed to increase recovery as well.
On Tuesday, July 21, the Metro Council will consider different ways the region can divert more food scraps away from the landfill toward energy production and composting. Options could involve new recovery requirements and goals, as well as new and available options for the handling and processing of food scraps. The Metro Council will likely direct its staff to further explore a combination of policies, incentives and investments to put more food scraps to better use.
The work session begins at 2 p.m. at Metro Regional Center and is open to the public.
Food scraps decisions start the dominoes
Removing food scraps and other recoverable items from the garbage can affect what can be done with the rest of the stuff that just can’t be recycled or reused. Simply put, when you remove the food, the waste is much drier, and there are more options for how it can be managed to create fuels or electricity. On Tuesday, July 28, the Metro Council will consider options for this inevitable pile of trash, whether it’s wet with food scraps or not.
In April, Metro solicited expressions of interest from companies that are experienced in providing a variety of different types of waste processing services, other than landfills:
- Combustion: Burning garbage to create heat and electricity
- Gasification: Heating garbage at very high temperatures (1800 degrees Fahrenheit and higher) to create gases and break down into simple compounds that can be used for electricity generation or other chemical processes
- Anaerobic digestion: Using bacteria to break down biodegradable material without oxygen to produce methane and carbon dioxide for electricity, natural gas or other fuels
- Refuse-derived fuels: Developing new fuels from garbage that can be used in power plants and for other industrial purposes
- Advanced material recovery: facilities that sort and remove additional recyclable and reusable materials from garbage so that the leftover waste can achieve better results in energy development
Metro received responses from 19 companies. At the July 28 work session, Metro staff will present an overview of those responses and recommendations on which technologies, in addition to landfills, should be studied further for feasibility and potential procurement.
The July 28 work session also begins at 2 p.m. at Metro Regional Center and is open to the public.