In December, the Metro Council will vote on whether to adopt a policy that will require some businesses that process, cook or sell food to keep food scraps out of their trash.
The policy, if adopted, would also obligate local governments to enforce the regional commercial food scrap collection requirements in their jurisdictions. Businesses in greater Portland already have collection services for recycling paper, plastic, metal and glass. Some businesses would have to add food scraps to the list of items that must be collected separately from trash.
Provide comments using any of the methods below by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20.
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Food scraps policy comments
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Portland, OR 97232
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Public comment on this proposed mandate begins today.
Here are some things to know.
Why does this matter?
It’s Metro’s job to manage garbage and recycling in the region, and right now, says Ken Ray, senior public affairs coordinator at Metro, food is the biggest component of what we throw away. About 18 percent of garbage from the Portland region is food. That’s enough food to fill 5,000 long- haul trucks per year. “If you lined them up end to end,” says Ray, “they’d stretch 63 miles — from Portland to Hood River.”
Once all that food is dumped in a landfill it rots and generates methane, a powerful contributor to climate change that is at least 24 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
Not only is food in landfills an environmental concern, says Ray, it’s also a missed opportunity. “Food scraps have value,” he explains. High quality food waste, uncontaminated by garbage, can be turned into compost, fertilizer, electricity or fuel. “Metro is looking for ways to capture that value and bring it back to the local community.”
What are commercial food scraps anyway?
“They’re not edible food,” says Ray. Food scraps include peels and rinds, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds and plate scrapings. More than 55 percent of the food scraps – and other food – that go from greater Portland to landfills come from businesses.
The draft mandate applies specifically to the food waste generated “at the back of the house,” that is, in places where the employees, rather than the public, have direct control over what goes into collection bins. That way the food scraps aren’t contaminated with stray plastic forks or napkins.
While food scraps are a focus of the conversation, the draft mandate applies to all food waste, including food that is edible but for some reason not going to be used. Edible food can be mixed with food scraps, but, Rays says, “our highest priority will always be food waste prevention and donation.”
What businesses would be affected by the proposed requirement?
If Metro Council votes for a mandatory separation of commercial food scraps, it would eventually include about 2,700 businesses as well as K-12 schools.
The policy will be implemented in phases, says Ray, starting in 2019 with the largest businesses and, in 2023, culminating in a ban on food disposal from businesses.
- Phase 1, starting in March 2019, would require about 872 large food –oriented business to collect food scraps in separate bins. Think chain restaurants, food manufacturers, large hospitals, and grocery stores. In the early years, planners estimate that between 30 and 50 percent of total commercial food scraps generated will be collected. That’s between 25,000 and 42,000 tons annually from these large businesses.
- Phase 2, starting in March 2020, would add 1088 businesses generating between 6,000 and 10,000 tons of food scraps per year into the mandatory collection program.
- Phase 3, beginning in September 2021, would include add another 740 businesses as well as K-12 schools, whose cumulative food scraps are estimated to be between 3,900 and 6,500 tons annually.
Small restaurants, coffee shops and food carts that generate less than 250 pounds of food scraps per week would not be affected by the mandate. Some of these, as well as many larger food businesses — about 1,300 all together — currently participate in voluntary food scraps collection programs.
Why make food scrap collection mandatory?
Because, says Ray, the amount of commercial food scraps collected has remained the same since 2010, at about 27,000 tons per year. Food still makes up the biggest portion of what we throw away, and because of that and its negative environmental effects, it’s a priority to get it out of the garbage. And not just here in the Portland region: The state of Oregon has set a goal to recover 25 percent of wasted food by 2020.
Ray says that the aim is to collect at least 50,000 tons per year from businesses in the region once the program has been fully phased in.
Are businesses on board?
Jodenne Scott is director of financial support services and energy sustainability at Shari’s. Shari’s participates in mandated food scrap collection programs at several locations in Washington and California. It also participated in a pilot program to separate food scraps here in the Portland region but stopped doing so when it didn’t pan out financially.
Shari’s, Scott says, prepares food in such a way that they don’t have a huge volume of food scraps, and collecting them in separate bins is an added step for kitchen staff when clearing plates.
“Our goal is to keep our costs and labor down,” she says. “If we’re going to get charged for food composting then we really need to see a reduced cost in hauling our normal trash. Our bin size or our number of trash pickups should decrease.”
She says this didn’t happen in the pilot program, nor in those Washington or California locations where mandated collection programs are in place.
According to a survey that Metro conducted last September, business owners also worry about odors, and space for storing extra bins.
Scott says that in Washington and California, multiple pick-ups and smaller bins have allayed her company’s worries about odor. “We want to do the right thing,” she says, “but it should be cost-effective.”
Susan Steward, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Oregon, says that property managers have lots of questions: “Who will enforce the requirement? Who, ultimately is liable if a restaurant doesn’t do what it’s supposed to?” But many worries will be allayed, she believes, if the mandate rolls out with an effective outreach program – including visits to buildings to offer technical assistance and education.
Ray says that Metro will be working with local governments to mitigate cost impacts on businesses and to work with businesses and property managers on effective ways to implement the program.
At Providence hospitals, the cost to dispose of food waste is half the cost of garbage disposal, and since food accounts for almost a quarter of waste there, it’s easy to understand why at six of their eight Oregon facilities, staff have been separating food scraps from the rest of the trash for years.
“We think it’s a good thing,” says sustainability manager, Mike Geller, but he adds, “if you’re going to make it mandatory, it has to be easy for everyone.” Infrastructure — trucks, hauling services, processing facilities — is key, he says. Right now, Providence hauls its own food waste from its Oregon City hospital to Portland because there is no commercial food scraps collection program in Oregon City.
What will happen to all those food scraps?
Right now, food scraps from the region travel 100 miles to a compost facility or an anaerobic digester, which turns food scraps into biogas. But these facilities are far away and don’t currently have the capacity to process the estimated 59,000 tons collected under a requirement. So, says Ray, Metro is trying to procure a processing facility that would turn the scraps into compost, fertilizer, energy or other byproducts.
Under consideration are proposals for composting, anaerobic digestion and wastewater treatment facilities. Metro expects to announce a selected technology in early October.
Metro would also work with local governments to design commercial food scrap hauling programs in jurisdictions across the region. These would be separate and different from the residential programs that operate or will soon begin in Forest Grove, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Beaverton and Portland, which pick up food waste with yard waste.
Metro will accept public comments on the draft policy through Oct. 20. The Metro Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and receive testimony on a final ordinance on Thursday, Nov. 30, with a formal vote on the policy on Thursday, Dec. 7.
If the Metro Council approves the policy language, then the administrative rules, all the details on how the code will be administered and enforced, will undergo further public review and comment before approval by Martha Bennett, Metro’s chief operating officer.
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