Garbage hauler working with city officials to develop a residential composting program

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Republic Services driver Alfred Starr picks up trash during a recent run through Lake Oswego. Adding residential composting will not require more trucks or drivers, the company says, and routes can remain the same. Republic Services may soon add residential curbside pickup of food scraps to its weekly garbage and recycling service in Lake Oswego.

Details of the new program still need to be worked out between the city and its garbage hauler and approved by the City Council. But officials say it could begin as early as this spring, allowing residents to add food waste to their yard debris bins and creating the potential for savings on monthly garbage bills.

“This is a great opportunity that’s been a long time in the making,” says City Councilor Joe Buck, a major proponent of the composting program.

Buck’s two Lake Oswego restaurants, Babica Hen Café and Gubanc’s Pub, have been able to take advantage of commercial composting for several years. And local schools have also begun the practice, he says.

“It’s increasingly becoming the norm,” Buck says. “People are moving here from other communities with residential composting, and they’re coming here and it feels like they’re moving backwards.”

City councilors discussed the residential composting program Dec. 1, when Republic Services went before the council to request a 5.9 percent increase in charges for garbage and recycling pickup. For about two-thirds of the city’s residents, who currently use a 35-gallon trash bin, that translates into an additional $1.47 a month.

The council unanimously approved the increase, but directed city staff to work with Republic Services to develop a program for collecting food waste. The new rates will go into effect on Jan. 1. But Brian May, municipal relations manager for Republic Services, says the rate increase can potentially be offset by the addition of food composting. Letting people put food waste into their yard debris bin could allow them to switch to a smaller garbage cart, he says.

“Waste assessments by the DEQ show that food waste represents about 18 percent of what we throw away today,” May told the council, “so what we look for is a way to recover that material out of the garbage cart and into compost or somewhere that it can be reused.”

Duke Castle, one of the co-founders of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network, says that when food waste is tossed into landfills, it creates methane gas that is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse warming gas than cardon dioxide.

“On the other hand,” he says, “composted food waste is a valuable resource that returns nutrients to the soil and can be used as a natural fertilizer instead of a fossil-fuel based synthetic fertilizer. When used in an anaerobic digestion system, it also becomes a source of renewable energy and food stock for animals.

“You ultimately want to get away from putting anything in a landfill. You put something in a landfill and it’s a resource that can’t be used again,” Castle adds. “Look at nature. Nature doesn’t have a landfill. Nature is designed so waste from one species is food for another. So that’s the concept with composting. It completes the cycle.”

When Lake Oswego previously considered curbside composting — which has been introduced in Portland, Salem, Corvallis and other cities — residents were reluctant to decrease the frequency of trash pickup here, Buck says. When Portland started its composting program, trash pickup was reduced to every other week, which caused problems with overflowing trash bins.

The difference in the current plan is that Republic Services would not have to change truck routes or increase the number of trucks or drivers, May told The Review, allowing composting to be introduced at a minimal cost. In fact, the only real change will be the location where yard debris and food scraps will be processed. The resulting compost product will then be sold to farmers and gardeners.

BUCKBuck says that in addition to the environmental benefits, the new composting program will provide an opportunity for people to re-evaluate the size of their garbage bin. With a combination of composting, recycling more items and reducing wasteful practices, people have an opportunity to achieve savings on their monthly trash bill, he says.

Under a proposal crafted with Republic Services by Buck and Councilor Jon Gustafson, residents who use a 20-gallon trash cart — the smallest size available — will not pay more for organics pickup.  Any additional costs will be spread over the customers who use 35-, 65- and 90-gallon containers.

“The thinking,” Buck says, “is that older folks, empty nesters and those perhaps on fixed incomes would more likely be the 20-gallon users, so they will not face any increased cost, even though that cost is very minimal.  At the same time, users of larger containers would have an opportunity to try to decrease their refuse container size by diverting organics to their yard debris container, and perhaps by better managing their recycling.

“Decreasing the cart size would result in a savings to the household,” he adds, “so there is a financial incentive to be more conscious about waste — in addition to the social and environmental incentives we all have.”

Buck says he has been hearing excitement about organics pickup for years.

“We want to afford members of our community at least the opportunity to make those decisions,” he says. “And because the frequency of pickup service remains the same, no one is forced to do anything.”

May points out that composting can help people realize how much food they are throwing away, which can help change their habits.

“It’s not only pulling that organic material out of your cart and into the yard debris cart,” May told The Review. “It’s also an evaluation of what’s in your garbage cart and whether you can recycle that. It’s getting people to think about what they’re putting in those three carts and making a conscious decision when they buy.”

Jason Jordan, the general manager of Republic Services, says that what the company is really trying to do is create a complete circle, so food waste can be reused in other areas.

“We’re looking at this (composting) as one piece of that sustainability puzzle,” he says. “It’s a pretty integral piece, because it forces people to look at what they’re throwing away.”

Jordan and May both say that Republic Services is making several other changes geared toward sustainability. Beginning early in 2016, for example, the company will roll out a new fleet of trucks that run on compressed natural gas. The new trucks are slightly more expensive to run, Jordan says, but they will reduce emissions and the carbon footprint of the company.

Republic Services expects to bring a detailed composting plan to the council in early 2016. Once that plan is approved, the company will work with the city on an educational campaign to explain exactly what goes where — just to make sure there is no confusion.

Most residents will welcome and embrace the change, Buck believes.

“We’ve always been about a really top-tier lifestyle in Lake Oswego,” he says. “And nowadays, that means making good, healthy, environmentally sound decisions. We want to make sure we have all those features in place for our residents.”

Contact Rebecca Brewster at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..