Oregon Composters Push Back Against Compostable Packaging

By Steve Sherman, Steven Sherman Consulting, 03/12/19
Oregon compost facility operators are pushing back on the large and growing stream of challenging materials being sent to their facilities. Their joint statement, “A Message From Composters Serving Oregon: Why We Don’t Want Compostable Packaging and Serviceware”, emphasizes that such items “compromise our composting programs and limit many of the environmental benefits of successful composting.”

The statement lists nine reasons why they do not want “compostable” packaging and food serviceware delivered to their facilities:

      1. It does not always compost
      2. It introduces contamination
      3. It hurts re-sale quality
      4. The composters cannot sell to organic farmers
      5. It may impact human and environmental health
      6. It increases compost operators’ costs and makes our jobs harder
      7. Just because something can be composted does not mean that is necessarily better for the environment
      8. In some cases, the benefits of recycling surpass those of composting
      9. Good intentions are not being realized

The compost facility operators’ main point is: “We need to focus on recycling food and yard trimmings into high-quality compost products. Compostable packaging does not help us to achieve this goal.”

Signatories to this statement include some of Oregon’s leading compost facility operators, including independent, regional companies such as Rexius Compost and Organics, Dirt Hugger, Lane Forest Products, and Deschutes Compost Facility, as well as large, integrated companies such as Recology (Organics Oregon) and Republic Services (Pacific Region Compost).

It is not a National Sword policy in the making. Still, clearly there is growing tension, at least in Oregon – land of the first container deposit legislation in the country and consistently one of nation’s most eco-friendly states – over what to do with potentially compostable materials not yard trimmings or food scraps.

We can use this statement from Oregon to remind ourselves that composting is not a magic solution. Instead, the term “composting” represents a suite of technologies that operates within a generally thin-margin industry that must make saleable products of reasonable quality and consistency in order to survive.

In California, several processors are being challenged by borderline materials like plastic-lined milk cartons, other food-soiled paper, and whatever you want to call those plastics that we send to compost facilities in the hope that it will all work out well. “This material is a Trojan horse that brings in even more problematic material,” according to Jack Hoeck, VP Environmental Services Rexius Compost and Organics. “In Eugene, we’re going back to a ‘food only’ program for businesses,” he said.

We in Northern California may or may not be facing the same situation as Oregon. Then again, as SB1383 ramps up, as lower quality feedstocks make up a larger fraction of what is sent to compost facilities, who knows?

Feedstock quality counts. A business model that focuses on “pulling” in higher-quality feedstocks to produce valuable products for markets generally stands a reasonable chance of succeeding over the long run. Less certain of long-term success, however, is the more capital-intensive business model for organics processing that responds primarily to the “push” from well-meaning legislation and from municipalities’ need to get rid of stuff of questionability quality and utility.

Again, Northern California’s composting industry dynamics may differ from Oregon’s, but we should remain mindful about the importance of delivering higher-quality feedstocks to compost facilities that want them.

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The Recycle, Compost and No Landfill Tour

Our Recycle, Compost and No Landfill Tour will explore 2 facilities: Mt.Diablo Resource Recovery and Vision Recycling. We will meet on March 20 at 9am at the MacArthur Bart Station in Oakland, visit the facilities and have a light lunch, returning attendees to BART by 4pm.

Cost is $25 and includes van transportation and a light lunch.  Wear closed-toe shoes and sunscreen, and bring your own water bottle.  Register today, only 25 spots are available! 

Zero Food Waste Forum – Presentations, Program Guide, and SB1383 Summary

Thank you Zero Food Waste Forum Attendees, Speakers, Volunteers and Sponsors!

Your presence helped to make this event a great success and your enthusiasm and positive spirit helped make our time together both productive and fun.  We wish you all the best and hope that you continue to be engaged with ensuring food goes to its highest and best use and organics stay out of landfill.  Stay tuned for upcoming events from NCRA and please consider becoming a member.

As promised, we have linked here the presentations, the Program Guide, and the Summary of SB1383.

1 – MartineBoswell

2 – JustinMalan

3 – MelissaRomero

4 – BarbaraHamilton

5 – IeshaSiler-AlysonSchill

6 – RobinMartin

7 – AnnalisaBelliss-NancyDeming

8 – DanaFrasz

9 – DarbyHoover

10a – WendyShafir

10b – WendyShafir

11 – NateClark

12 – StevenFinn

ZFWF Program Guide

SB1383 Summary

Zero Food Waste Forum Events! Green Drinks and Just Eat It Film Screening!

We are pleased to announce the second Zero Food Waste Forum to be held October 16, 2018 in Berkeley, California, hosted by the Northern California Recycling Association and the Solid Waste Association of North America Gold Rush Chapter.

Check out the updated Program! No more seats are available at the Forum – please contact us if you have any questions.

We are promoting two side events related to the Zero Food Waste Forum:

Green Drinks after the Tech Showcase – October 16th – 5:30 to 8:30
SWANA Gold Rush Chapter and Zero Waste Youth USA invite you to Green Drinks.  Please join the attendees of the Zero Food Waste Forum at Triple Rock Brewing, 1920 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley. A limited number of free drink tickets will be available.

Reducing Food Waste Movie Night + Panel Discussion + Book Signing – October 17th – 5:30 to 8:30
The Zero Food Waste Forum steering committee is promoting a special event in Alameda designed to coincide with the Zero Food Waste Forum. Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda (CASA), a community-based non-profit, is hosting a movie night, book signing, and panel discussion featuring former NRDC staff scientist Dana Gunders, San Francisco star chef Nick Balla of Bar Tartine, and Tara Duggan, James Beard award-winning journalist on Wednesday, October 17th in the Grand Ballroom at the Elks Lodge 2255 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda 94501.

Many thanks to our Sponsors for making the Zero Food Waste Forum possible:
GOLD Sponsors:
City of Napa and NRWS
San Mateo County
San Francisco Department of the Environment
StopWaste

SILVER Sponsor:
City of Fremont

BRONZE Sponsors:
City of Emeryville
City of Livermore
O2 Artisans Aggregate
Recyclist