Sustainability | Ecotrope

North Plains Food Scrap Composting At A Crossroads

Ecotrope | Jan. 15, 2013 1:47 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:27 p.m.

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Washington County is weighing the possibility of ending food scrap composting in North Plains after more than a thousand odor complaints about the Nature's Needs facility.

Washington County is weighing the possibility of ending food scrap composting in North Plains after more than a thousand odor complaints about the Nature's Needs facility.

The Washington County Commission will meet next week to decide what to do about ongoing odor problems at the Nature’s Needs composting facility in North Plains.

A large portion of Portland’s curbside food scraps go to Nature’s needs for composting, and they’ve created quite a stink among local residents.

While collecting household food scraps has reduced garbage in Portland by 38 percent over the past year, conflicts between Nature’s Needs and its neighbors have raised the question of where food waste composting facilities should be sited to avoid odor problems.

State Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, is reportedly looking at proposing legislation that would require a large buffer around such composting facilities.

Recology, the parent company of Nature’s Needs, has asked Washington County for a 9-month extension of the permit that allows food waste composting in North Plains. But Washington County commissioners have threatened to end the food waste permit to resolve odor problems. Next week, they could vote to approve the company’s request with conditions or change the permit.

“They could say yes and make the permit permanent,” said Jon Thomas, operations manager for Nature’s Needs. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Recology has offered to stop taking commercial food waste and focus solely on residential curbside material. But commissioners could decide the company can no longer accept any food scraps at all in North Plains. The alternative is to take food waste to other locations that are farther away.

Thomas said the company has spent millions building a facility that can compost food waste and minimize odor.

“It wouldn’t be really agreeable for us from a financial perspective to discontinue all food waste,” he said. “We’re set up as a food waste composting company, and that’s the way we’d like to stay. There’s a myriad of commercial composters in the area taking only green waste. We do food waste.”

Thomas said other cities and counties are moving toward their own food scrap composting programs, so the question of where to compost food waste will only loom larger in the coming years.

“This is the last and the biggest stream of garbage that hasn’t been addressed,” he said.

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