Senior center becomes fourth Tualatin business to launch food scrap collection program

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Garnett Tuss scrapes food into a newly installed compost bin at Tualatins Juanita Pohl Center.Earth Day this week saw a continued effort by Washington County to increase sustainability and minimize waste. The Junaita Pohl Senior Center in Tualatin became the fourth Tualatin site, and the tenth participating business in the county, to join the food scraps collection pilot program that began Jan. 1.

According to Melissa Sandoz, a program educator with Washington County Solid Waste and Recycling, the pilot program began because officials wanted to work out as many complications as possible before launching it full scale.

“They have all been doing really good jobs, and I’m really impressed with the food scraps that we see,” she said of the participating sites.

For the time being, Juanita Pohl’s food scraps bin will only be in the kitchen, a concern voiced by some of the seniors at the presentation. If all goes well, and they continue to want multiple bins, it’s something that will be considered.

Another potential item on the drawing board is to take the program to residential customers. Right now, the county is still considering whether it’s even a viable option. The challenge with adding bins somewhere, and the reason why going residential is so difficult, is making sure the food scraps stay as pure as possible. Once collected, they’re taken to a composting facility near Corvallis where a 60-day process transforms them into compost — the same kind of compost that everyone at Juanita Pohl was offered as part of the celebration.

But, it starts to defeat the purpose if things like plastic bags and utensils keep weaseling their way in. It’s for this reason that the county’s program is food only, as compared to different programs that allow other items like compostable plates or cups. While it should be simple enough, there is often an element of confusion about what is and isn’t allowed in the bin.

“That’s part of why we chose to do food only, because it’s such a straight forward message. Is it food? Yes. Put it in the bin,” said Sandoz. “We wanted to make people feel successful and like it was easy and something they could do.”

Eventually, Sandoz hopes the program will be the norm, not the exception — county wide and available to every business wanting to participate. For now, the pilot program will continue one business at a time, adding pieces to the larger sustainability puzzle.

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