Waste ... not
About two years ago, the owners of Gresham's Grocery Outlet wanted to explore bringing more sustainable practices into their business.
"We wanted to be better stewards of the community," said Cory Price, owner of the Gresham location at 2925 N.W. Division St. "It's what we should be doing."
One phone call to the city of Gresham later, and Grocery Outlet had a roadmap for good practices to implement. They placed recycling bins in their office space, retrofitted the majority of their lights to LED and put many systems on sensors to better manage energy usage. The grocery store also implemented a produce-composting program.
"The city came out and walked us through the different ways the store could be more green," Price said.
Now Grocery Outlet is diverting 40 gallons of compost out of the landfill every week. It's an easy process, Price explained. Any produce pulled from the shelves of the grocery store is separated from its packaging and put into a compost bin in the back storage room. A special compost liner, recommended by the city, prevents bad smells from escaping.
"People think composting is going to be smelly and make a mess, but it's not," Price said.
The bin is then emptied into a rolling container outside the store where it is picked up weekly by their normal trash collector.
"We wanted to get ahead of the curve," Price said.
Soon, many businesses across the city will have to think about composting because of new regulations coming out of Metro regional government. Metro Council adopted a Food Scraps policy in July 2018 that will require certain businesses to separate their food scraps from other garbage. Later this year, the Metro Council will consider whether to ban the disposal of food scraps from businesses in landfills at a future date.
As a result of the decision, the city of Gresham will have to send documentation to Metro that demonstrates how it will comply with the food scraps ordinance by July 31, 2019. Right now, the city is talking with businesses about the requirements coming down the Metro pipeline. And once the City Council comes up with a plan, staff believe it should be fairly simple to implement in the community thanks to pre-existing programs.
"It's just changing habits. It's like recycling," said Shannon Martin, solid waste and recycling program manager. "Our ultimate goal is not to increase rates for businesses who want to participate."
At Elmer's Restaurant, 1590 N.E. Burnside Road, all new employees go through composting lessons as part of their new-hire trainings.
Everyone at the restaurant, from those who clear tables to chefs, are passionate about following a sustainable mindset. And while all four local Elmer's locations compost their food scraps, ownership highlighted the Burnside location as the shining "green" example, thanks in large part to General Manager Stephanie Olson.
"It's an easy thing to do once you start thinking about composting," Olson said.
At Elmer's, any leftover food on plates is put into a composting bin. In the kitchen, the same is done during food preparation.
"Composting is better for the environment," Olson observed.
A 2009 study by the U.S. Agriculture Department found that annually a quarter of the country's water and 4 percent of its oil consumption go into producing and distributing food that ends up in the landfill.
Regionally, experts say that food is the largest component of disposed waste, with more than half coming from businesses. Once food ends up in the trash heap, it generates methane — a greenhouse gas 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat within the atmosphere.
The Metro Food Scraps policy works to reduce a portion of that waste, focused on businesses and restaurants only. That means the requirements only apply to food preparation.
Businesses can comply with the policy in different ways, beyond just sorting their food waste into a specific bin. For example, several local coffee shops give their coffee grounds to farmers and gardeners. They also have options within the program, such as different sized containers to better fit their needs.
At Grocery Outlet, in addition to the composting, they also donate food to SnowCap Community Charities and send produce they can't sell to pig farmers.
"We want to find ways to avoid food waste in general," said Nick Isbister, sustainability adviser for the city. "We want people to know we are here to advise on that."
Plate to Power
Gresham's composting program Plate to Power is already in place as a resource for businesses, and should help smooth the transition to comply with Metro's requirements.
One of the first local businesses to help pilot Plate to Power 10 years ago was La Carreta of Gresham, a Mexican restaurant and cantina at 660 N.E. Burnside Road.
"(Composting) is a great concept," said Jose Estrada, owner of La Carreta. "Instead of putting food in the trash, you put it in the compost bin. I can't think of any negatives."
The Plate to Power program helps reduce food waste by working with donation agencies and turning food scraps into renewable energy at a facility in Junction City. Participants in the program get support from city staff, free internal collection containers, signs and training, and composting bins. Through Plate to Power, they also have reduced food scrap hauling rates.
There are about 43 restaurants and 20 schools across the community participating in the composting program. La Carreta, Grocery Outlet and Elmer's are all participants.
At La Carreta, the city helped train staff in how to properly compost, and after a few months of getting used to the new system, everyone at the restaurant jumped on board.
"You have to keep at it," Estrada said. "There are no shortcuts."
When it comes to implementing the new requirements around food scraps, Metro has allowed for flexibility.
In Gresham, the plan is a three-phase rollout beginning with businesses that generate the most food scraps. Group one, rolling out between March 31, 2020, and March 31, 2021, will include all businesses that generate 1,000 pounds or more of food scraps per week.
Group two, from March 31, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022, includes all businesses generating 500 pounds or more of food scraps per week. Finally, Group 3, Sept. 30, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023, will be K-12 schools and businesses generating 250 pounds or more.
The idea is to give more time to small businesses and restaurants to successfully implement the composting requirements.
"We are encouraging businesses to join the program now," Isbister said.
Price's advice for business owners who may be worried about the changes coming out of Metro? Call the city.
"You don't have to sign a contract or pay any fees," he said. "They will come out to your business and give advice."
Plate to Power