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By Anne Bedarf, Senior Manager, GreenBlue

Run by Recology, the Nature’s Needs compost facility in North Plains, Oregon provided an informative look into composting operations in the Portland area. The site currently processes approximately 50,000 tons of yard trimmings, municipal organics, and land clearing materials each year.

The facility historically used wind rows, and recently switched over to aerated static pile technology, a method that is gaining in popularity due to its lower maintenance requirements. Though it seems that blowing forced air into a compost pile would use more energy, it actually saves energy by eliminating much of the heavy equipment usage that is required by typical windrow operations. Yard waste comprises the majority of the feedstocks here.

On the subject of compostable packaging, the answers were less clear. Though the facility doesn’t encourage its use and the percentage of feedstock coming from residential sources is relatively small, the operator stated that they don’t typically have issues with any compostable packaging that makes it into the system. The most common contaminants are plastic bags.

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The tour-goers got a treat when the Cooper’s hawk and her handler were present to show us how they protect the site against nuisance birds. This novel approach keeps the site cleaner and less hazardous.

Portland has been in the news because of the decision by Metro Central to stop allowing compostable packaging and other uncoated paper into the stream. Indeed, at the local Whole Foods and Farmers Market, compost bins were marked “food only” and the local Whole Foods representative said that the paper towels provided “too much carbon” to the stream. This seems odd given the fact that most composters need carbon, and this remains an issue to be explored. In addition, most of the “food only” signs said that coffee filters and tea bags were okay, creating a confusing message to residents.

GreenBlue and the SPC look forward to future discussions with Oregon composters as part of our work on the value of compostable packaging, and building the composting infrastructure!20160919_164242