Portland, Oregon regional government approves commercial organics mandate
UPDATE: July 30, 2018: The Metro Council voted in favor of the ordinance on Thursday. A Metro representative told Waste Dive in an email that the council voted 7-0 to pass the measure.
- The Metro Council (Metro) — the regional governing body for the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area — is scheduled for a July 26 vote on a proposed ordinance that would require municipalities to enforce source-separation of scraps from commercial and institutional generators for donation or processing.
- Establishments that generate 1,000 pounds or more of organics per week would have to comply by March 2020. Generators of 500 pounds or more would be phased in by March 2021, followed by those with 250 pounds or more by Sept. 2022.
- Metro is budgeting $400,000 for technical assistance to local governments in the upcoming fiscal year and is also prepared to make offset payments to service providers in the event that transfer or processing sites for organics are farther than existing refuse facilities. Metro is also in negotiations with Waste Management to open a pre-processing facility to prepare material for anaerobic digestion at Portland’s Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality has set a food waste recovery goal of 25% by 2020 and Metro is considering a separate resolution that would put it on track to "implement a regional food scraps disposal prohibition no earlier than January 2025." Food waste is almost 18% — about 170,000 tons annually — of what the greater Portland region sends to landfills, Ken Ray, Metro's senior public affairs coordinator, told Waste Dive.
The proposed ordinance focuses on businesses and schools rather than making the existing, optional residential organics program mandatory because most of the region's food waste comes from the commercial sector. Metro estimates that businesses produce 100,000 tons of food waste annually, of which 24,000 tons is collected through the 15-year-old voluntary commercial organics program. The council believes that the proposed ordinance and pre-processing facility could increase commercial volumes to 50,000 tons a year once full implementation is complete.
Metro notes that the program would only pertain to food scraps, not to surplus edible food. "For food that is still edible but can't be served, we encourage donation to food agencies," Ray said.
The proposed plan is unique because Metro is active in the process of obtaining an organics facility, instead of merely the governance process. "Metro is doing both policy and facility procurement — development of a processor," Ray said. "We need to procure additional processing capacity if we're going to do this."
The council is actively working to keep costs down for customers as the program is implemented, but haulers for each individual municipality set their own pricing structures. Because residential and commercial collections are separate, the ordinance is not expected to affect residential pricing. Some businesses have raised concerns about incurring additional costs through the new program, but Ray points out that in some cases their hauling prices might actually decrease because they will have lower volumes of trash to haul to landfill. Still, Metro cannot set the haulers' prices.
Metro researched other cities' successes and shortcomings in the organics space, and it modeled the proposed ordinance after other areas' successful programs, such as in Massachusetts. Though by actively working to expand processing capacity ahead of implementation, and budgeting to offset transfer costs as that capacity ramps up, Metro is going farther than most local governments have for similar organics mandates.
"This is our biggest opportunity to change our waste stream and get more value out of this product, and to reduce greenhouse gases," Ray said.