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Metro talks trash as area's waste piles up

Policies under review as expiration looms on scores of contracts

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - At the Metro Central Transfer Station in North Portland, people dump trash, where gleaners will come by later to see what can be recycled.A month after their “Let’s Talk Trash” film festival, the Metro regional government is still talking trash.

In fact, the public will be hearing much more about how to overhaul the region’s trash network in 2015.

Several hundred contracts with companies that haul, burn, recycle or bury solid waste all expire in 2019. Metro’s Solid Waste Roadmap (www.oregonmetro.gov) lays out various options.

Earlier this month, the Metro Council directed its staff to come up with a policy that evaluates landfill capacity available to the region to guide decisions about where the region’s waste should be sent.

In a resolution, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey noted the concerns raised by farmers, business owners and residents in Yamhill County during the past few years about a proposed expansion of Riverbend Landfill outside McMinnville.

The landfill, which is owned by Waste Management Inc., receives about 29 percent of the Metro region’s garbage. The Metro region’s garbage makes up about 48 percent of the incoming volume of waste at Riverbend.

Waste Management anticipates that without an expansion, the landfill will run out of room for more waste in two years. Therefore, Waste Management is seeking approvals to add another 15 years of capacity to the landfill.

“If we’re going to seriously discuss reducing waste, why should we invest in more landfill capacity for the region?” Stacey asked.

Mike Dewey, a lobbyist for Waste Management, told the council his client did not

oppose Stacey’s proposal and acknowledged that there is plenty of landfill capacity in the region.

But, he said, “for people who want to close the landfill, this proposal probably isn’t the place to do it.”

Dewey said Waste Management already is applying for permits with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to expand the landfill. He said DEQ has been monitoring the landfill and re-issuing permits for more than 20 years.

“There have been plenty of opportunities to close the landfill,” Dewey said.

If the Metro Council were to decide to stop sending any garbage to Riverbend, nearly all of that waste would be sent to Columbia Ridge Landfill, located south of Arlington, about 150 miles east of Portland, per an existing agreement with Waste Management.

That agreement obligates 90 percent of the region’s wet waste (the garbage that remains after recycling and recovery efforts) to be sent to a Waste Management-owned landfill until the end of 2019.

Waste Management also owns and operates Columbia Ridge.

Much of the waste that gets sent to Riverbend is collected from homes and businesses on the west side of the region, and diverting that waste to Columbia Ridge could pose increased transportation costs that ultimately are borne by garbage customers.

That raised concerns from Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who represents communities in northern and western Washington County.

“I’m concerned about hearing a refrain, after today’s action, as to ‘Why are you doing this? Why now? And don’t raise rates just because you can,’” Harrington said. She noted that leaders from Beaverton and Washington County sent letters expressing concern about the potential effects of diverting waste away from Riverbend on their communities’ garbage customers.

Harrington offered an amendment to the resolution to ensure that Metro looks at capacity at existing landfills — and not just proposals for new landfills or landfill expansions — so as to create a “more level playing field” in evaluating all available landfills, not just those proposing to create new capacity.

The resolution, with Harrington’s amendment, was passed unanimously by the council.

Metro staff now will work to craft policy language for the Metro Council to codify in its solid waste ordinances that takes landfill capacity into consideration when approving future licenses for garbage haulers and transfer stations to manage and transport the region’s waste.

Metro staff must provide the recommended policy language to the Metro Council by June 30, 2016.

Disposing of food waste

A large part of the waste management discussion involves food waste.

Matt Korot, a manager in Metro’s Sustainability Center, said his department received two directives from councilors.

He said the council wanted to look at whether a ban on food waste would make sense in the Portland region. Both Seattle and San Francisco have instituted such bans.

But the council also wanted options for financial incentives for increased composting of food waste, Korot said.

The council wanted staff to “look at what the meaningful options would be to financially incentivize the separation of food waste as an alternative to a regulatory ban,” Korot said.

That could mean adjusting the fees Metro charges for garbage and food waste, to encourage residents and businesses to cut down on the amount of food they put in the trash.

It also likely would involve making it easier to send food waste into the composting stream.

But the city of Portland’s curbside food waste composting has encountered problems, like residents’ complaints about odors from the compost processing facility in North Plains.

When the facility limited its capacity for food waste, some compostable food was sent hundreds of miles into Washington. Finally, commercial food waste was pulled from the waste stream, making it less noxious.

Metro officials this month said they’re leaning away from composting near the Portland region as the key way of managing food waste, turning instead to another technology — anaerobic digestion.

Unlike composting — which turns into garden-friendly compost — the digester process involves food breaking down in an oxygen-free environment, producing gases that make electricity. What’s left after processing can be turned into fertilizer.

Currently, the region sends some of its food waste to a digester in Junction City, 90 miles south of Portland.

Another facility, Columbia Biogas, is planned along Columbia Boulevard in Northeast Portland.

It was approved after binding agreements with area residents and Metro about how many trucks could come in and out of the facility, and what would happen if foul odors were detected by area residents.

Korot says Metro would have to clearly communicate with residents about the impact of such a facility.

“You have to make it transparent for folks — what they’d be getting in their neighborhood, how an anaerobic digester has no resemblance other than the feedstock to a composting facility,” Korot said. “To have a fighting chance, we’d have to demonstrate that it doesn’t bring down the quality of life.”

Metro Council expects to make a decision in the next year or two.

“To me, the craziest thing,” said Councilor Carlotta Collette, “is that we haul food off to the desert when we do have options.”

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