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Curbside Composting? 

Knott Landfill is nearing capacity. Can removing food waste give it a longer lease on life?

click to enlarge An employee stirs the pile of compost at the Knott Landfill in Bend. - CHRIS MILLER
  • Chris Miller
  • An employee stirs the pile of compost at the Knott Landfill in Bend.

Knott Landfill—the only landfill in Deschutes County—is getting stuffed full. County officials estimate that if the current levels of garbage continue, it has a life expectancy of 12 more years.

Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone said the County's not looking for another landfill location yet, and the Solid Waste Advisory Committee is looking at the options for waste in Deschutes County, including burning or shipping it to other large landfills in the state.

"The committee has been asked not to discuss the siting of a new landfill in the county yet," DeBone said. "If the recommendation is to find a new landfill in the county, then we will start another public process and include anyone who has an opinion."

But Timm Schimke, the director of Deschutes County Solid Waste, said the County is, at least, already looking at a variety of disposal options to replace Knott Landfill—including the possibility of a new landfill in the county, shipping waste to an existing landfill and various conversion technologies to capture energy from waste.

"We expect to have a solid waste management plan ready after the first of the next year," Schimke said.

Statewide, 26 percent of solid waste collected is wasted food that comes from restaurants, homes and food-based manufacturing, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. In 2016, according to information from the Deschutes County Solid Waste Management Plan, households and businesses in the County generated 240,000 tons of garbage. With the County's estimated population of 181,000, that's about 2,700 pounds of garbage per person, per year. Of the 240,000 tons of garbage, the landfill recycled 45,000 tons of materials like cardboard and plastic, and 35,000 tons of yard debris, wood and food waste. The balance of 180,000 tons was added to the solid waste storage cells in the landfill.

The Options

In 2018, the County created the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, comprised of county residents, garbage collection employees, county solid waste staff, consultants and city and county government officials tasked with drafting a Solid Waste Management Plan.

Part of the plan incorporates new state regulations requiring each county to reduce waste disposal in landfills. Deschutes County's current recovery rate—the portion of waste not headed to the landfill—is 33 percent. The new goal is to recover 45 percent by the year 2025.

One of the committee's final draft recommendations, made in July, was to expand the current yard and food waste collection program and consider universal service—meaning the services offered by the cities and the County should be the same. In Bend, yard debris collection is a subscription-only service that costs about $5 a month. During the July 24 SWAC meeting, Commissioner Phil Henderson said he wasn't comfortable with requiring everyone to subscribe and pay for certain services, particularly related to yard waste and food waste.

Current acceptable items allowed in yard waste bins include grass clippings, brush, weeds, pine needles, plant prunings, branches less than 2 inches around and 3 feet long, raw fruit and vegetable scraps—like apple cores, banana peels and potato skins—coffee grounds and tea bags.

"We are working to expand food collection as well as increasing diversion of other recyclables, such as construction debris," Schimke said. "We are looking at what other communities across the country are doing as we consider changes to our system. While we have looked at a number of methods to divert more waste from the landfill to prolong its life, the expense is an issue."

Cities including Portland, San Francisco and Minneapolis already recycle food waste more extensively. In San Francisco, for example, people can place meat (including bones), greasy food containers, dairy, cotton balls and pet hair into compostable bags taken away curbside. In Minneapolis, people can add pizza boxes, soiled papers and cheese into compost bins.

In 2009, San Francisco's Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance requiring everyone to separate waste into one of three bins: recycling, landfill and compost. After implementing the ordinance, San Francisco has the highest landfill diversion rate nationally, at 80 percent, according to azcentral.com.

In 2012, the year after Portland implemented its curbside composting program, the city had eliminated 40 percent of its residential garbage, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability said food scraps cost the city 43 percent less per ton to haul away than mixed garbage. Portland also reduced costs by switching from weekly garbage pickup to every other week—requiring customers to pay extra if they wanted weekly service.

Educating tourists

San Francisco, like Bend, sees its share of tourists. The city of San Francisco tackled the issue of educating non-residents on sorting waste by putting pictures on public bins, showing what goes in each container. The city creates over 2,300 tons of garbage per day, according to the azcentral.com story. Of that, about 650 tons per day is compost and 625 tons are recyclables, making the city one of the only cities in the U.S. where curbside composting has surpassed recycling.

During the Sept. 11 Deschutes County Commissioners Debate hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce, County Commission candidate Amy Lowes suggested Bend could try the route taken by other cities when it comes to increasing compost collection.

Phil Martin, who runs Phil Martin & Associates—a California-based environmental consultant firm—sent information to county commissioners this summer about a composting company he's been working with for years, called Renewable Carbon Management, which produces modified shipping containers that can compost food without creating odors typically associated with composting. Martin said much of the typical municipal solid waste material can be used as feedstock.

However, the costs are something to consider. Martin said Jim McNelly, who started RCM, said a 10 ton per day system would run about $800,000 and a 300 ton a day system would be about $7.5 million. Martin estimated Bend's needs would cost about $3 to $4 million, but once the system is capitalized and paid for, the operating cost would be less than $20 per ton.

"It is my opinion the containerized composting system that I have presented to the County could solve some of the County's capacity concern by removing recyclable materials for composting and provide the County a long-term source of revenue," Martin said.

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