Sustainability | Ecotrope

Washington County Cuts Food Waste At Compost Facility

Ecotrope | Jan. 23, 2013 12:41 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:27 p.m.

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Washington County voted to reduce the level of food scrap composting in North Plains after more than a thousand odor complaints about the Nature's Needs facility.

Washington County voted to reduce the level of food scrap composting in North Plains after more than a thousand odor complaints about the Nature's Needs facility.

The Washington County Commission voted Tuesday night to eliminate most of the food waste from the Nature’s Needs commercial composting facility in North Plains.

And they reserved the right to oust all food scraps from the operation with 30 days notice if they decide the place is still too stinky.

The board voted unanimously to end the commercial food waste demonstration project at the site that allowed the company to compost scraps from restaurants and businesses.

Operators at Nature’s Needs say removing commercial food waste will dramatically reduce the odors coming from their composting operation. Some North Plains residents compared the composting smell to a dead animal, rotting flesh and an open sewer at a hearing before the vote.

“It seems like North Plains is bearing the burden of this experiment,” said Mayor David Hatcher. “I think it’s time to realize this isn’t working and we need to figure something else out.”

The board opted not to cut out all food waste because that would effectively force the composting facility to close. Now that the city of Portland is combining residential food scraps with yard waste in curbside bins, commissioners said, banning all food waste would mean the company couldn’t take any yard waste from all of Portland.

“To shut down the entire facility is not a good option,” said Commissioner Bob Terry.

Commissioners agreed to allow Nature’s Needs to continue taking Portland’s table scraps under the condition that the company hire a third party odor monitor to assess the impact on the surrounding community. Without commercial food waste, only about 5 percent of the total compost feed stock at Nature’s Needs will be food, and the board can still vote to eliminate that portion, too, if odor problems persist.

“I will be sniffing extra hard,” said Commissioner Greg Malinowski. “If three of us decide it doesn’t smell good, it’s over.”

Paul Yamamoto, vice president and general manager for Recology, said he supports those conditions and is “committed to getting it right.”

“We have heard you loud and clear,” he told commissioners and North Plains residents at the meeting. His company has spent $5 million in upgrading the Nature’s Needs facility to reduce odors over the past year.

Nature’s Needs was allowed to compost commercial food waste in a temporary pilot project that was scheduled to run through the end of 2012. But the operation has drawn 1,500 odor complaints to date, and many residents of North Plains want it gone.

Commissioner Dick Schouten said he will be looking for a significant change in the smell coming from the facility once commercial food waste is gone.

“I’ve heard enough to know what we have is a public nuisance,” he said. “We have to see some real difference in the level of odor. … Our patience is very close to the end.”

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