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Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

With a winch and cable, Sanipac driver Dan Schmoe on Monday emptied a trash bin from behind McGrath's Fish House in Eugene into the back of his garbage truck.

But it wasn't a typical day on the refuse route.

The bin contained lettuce and other scraps culled from the restaurant's waste by employees as part of a new, voluntary effort to keep discarded food out of the county dump.

Sanipac and other refuse haulers are taking tossed food from restaurants, grocery stores, institutional kitchens and other food processors to Lane Forest Products and Rexius, which will convert the material to compost.

"It's a cool project," said Schmoe, a 21-year Sanipac employee. "It will become popular. We have a lot of people in Eugene and Springfield who like to do anything with recycling."

Encouraged by the city of Eugene and subsidized by all commercial account customers, the food waste collection is the city's latest step to reduce garbage. It follows earlier efforts in Eugene- Springfield to establish curbside, mixed materials and commercial recycling, plus yard debris pickup.

The effort began quietly last week. Haulers are adding customers slowly, and both are getting used to the service.

In the past few years, a few businesses had diverted fruit and vegetable waste from the landfill, including Market of Choice, Capella Market, Cafe Yumm and Steelhead Brewing Co.

Excelsior Inn, near the University of Oregon, has taken leftover vegetables and fruit to the restaurant's organic farm near Dexter. The material is made into compost, which is used to help grow the produce used by the restaurant.

But in the new effort, called "love food not waste," nearly every type of food discard is accepted: fruits, vegetables, meat - including bones - dairy products, seafood, eggs, breads products, and others.

Even compostable utensils, wax paper and vegetable and fruit boxes are taken because they can be composted.

About 20 businesses and public agencies are among the first to sign up with haulers on the new collections.

Excelsior head chef Karl Zenk said the restaurant will use the new program to recycle meat, fish, dairy products and baked goods through its garbage hauler, Royal Refuse.

"With stepped-up recycling, you'll hardly put anything in the Dumpster anymore," he said.

"You have to be pretty committed to it, because it's another step" for employees, Zenk said. "And a lot of busy restaurants don't always like to take that extra step."

About 10,000 tons of commercial food waste from Eugene are buried annually in the Short Mountain Landfill.

City officials want to cut that by 3,200 tons in the first year or so, but businesses and refuse haulers will have to work out kinks.

For example, it will be important to keep waste free from such noncompostable items as plastic straws, cream containers or paper coated with plastic, including paper plates, and liquids and grease.

Such items would ruin the compost that Lane Forest Products and Rexius want to produce.

"Employees are the key to the success of the program," said Ethan Nelson, the city's waste prevention and green building manager. "They are the ones who need to make sure the contamination is low."

The food collections are an extra service and cost, Nelson said, but businesses could find they save money overall.

Restaurants and other commercial waste generators will pay 20 percent less for the collections than regular garbage service. And by recycling food waste, the customers are likely to reduce their other waste, perhaps allowing them to cut pickups from their regular service.

McGrath's General Manager Steve Turner said he pays $775 a month for refuse collection and recycling at the restaurant near Valley River Center.

"Sanipac estimates we may be able to cut our solid waste by half and save up to 25 percent on our collection bill. I would rather have it recycled than take it out and have it buried."

A grant from Lane County Waste Management allowed the city to buy 23-gallon containers to separate kitchen food waste before it is placed in trash bins.

The city's commercial garbage generators are subsidizing the program through a refuse rate hike of 8 cents per-cubic-yard, imposed by the city last month.

Part of that fee will generate an estimated $41,000, which is to be spent on trash bins and equipment upgrades needed by haulers for the program, related outreach and marketing by the refuse firms, and subsidies to ensure haulers don't lose money on the routes, Nelson said.

The city works with haulers, reviewing expenses and regulating rates so firms achieve an 11 percent profit.

At first, haulers supported the program but didn't want it to reduce profits, Nelson said.

The subsidy equals 0.4 percent of the $10 million haulers spend annually on serving commercial accounts, he said.

At the end of 2012, Nelson said, the city will review haulers' books to determine if subsidies should continue.

Sanipac will need to attract more customers and be flexible as it provides the service, said Aaron Donley, the firm's sales manager.

"It's going to take trial and error, but we're pretty committed to making it work," he said. "We shouldn't lose money. Hopefully, it will be a wash. And we'll keep stuff out of the landfill, which is good."


For more on Eugene's commercial food composting program:


Call: Mark McCaffery, 541-682-5652

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Title Annotation:Local News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 8, 2011
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