BioCycle August 2005, Vol. 46, No. 8, p. 24
To lower hauling costs for its food residuals diversion program at the airport, the Port of Portland in Oregon has formed a collection partnership with four nearby businesses – two hotels and two flight kitchens.
Paul Rosenbloom and Sheryl Bunn
IN APRIL 2005, the Portland (Oregon) International Airport (PDX) and four nearby businesses began a Partners for Food Waste Diversion pilot project as a way to reduce the cost of transporting collected food residuals. After four months, nearly 90 tons of food residuals have been collected and transported to Metro NW regional transfer facility, for reload and delivery to Cedar Grove Composting. The project’s early success is due in large part to a coordinated and cooperative effort initiated by the Port of Portland (which operates the airport), facilitated by Community Environmental Services (CES) of Portland State University, and supported through funding, technical assistance and infrastructure development by City of Portland, Metro and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. This unique effort was recognized at the 2005 Association of Oregon Recyclers (AOR) conference with a Recycler of the Year special award for an innovative program. In its short life, the program has only increased solid waste and recycling costs for the partner businesses by one to five percent, while a single-site pick up food residuals program would have increased these costs by as much as 20 percent for some of the partners.
PDX initiated a vegetative food residuals diversion pilot project in 2003 with support and grant funding from Metro (see “Airport Launches Food Waste Diversion Program,” March 2004). After a successful 10-month pilot that included 21 airport vendors and averaged a 1.5 ton weekly diversion rate, the Port of Portland formally adopted the project and created the PDX Food Waste Diversion Program as part of its waste reduction business operations. For the next year, the program successfully maintained high diversion rates and consistently low levels of contamination – well below five percent. It also generated positive press and environmental awards for the Port of Portland and its tenants, and proved that food residuals diversion is possible in a complex institutional environment.
IN SEARCH OF SAVINGS
With hauling and disposal fees totaling over $20,000/year, the accolades of the program did not come cheap and the Port of Portland looked for ways to reduce costs. Analysis of expenses revealed that transportation was the lion’s share of the costs, making it more expensive to divert food residuals than to landfill them. Sharing the cost of transportation among other food residuals generating businesses appeared to be a feasible option. With four generators located within a mile of the airport and on Port of Portland property, the potential for a collection partnership was high. By sharing a collection route, more food residuals could be collected in less time, gaining the economies of multiple versus single site pick up.
In March 2004, Port of Portland staff visited with its neighboring businesses, two hotels – the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel and Embassy Suites Hotel – and two flight kitchens – Gate Gourmet and LSG-Sky Chefs. The concept of a food residuals collection partnership was discussed. All of the business managers expressed interest and support for such an effort. Common concerns included increased labor, equipment and additional disposal costs. Because the Port of Portland staff was able to speak from experience when describing implementation of a successful program, they were well positioned to assuage the concerns of business managers. With the businesses generally supportive of a food residuals collection partnership, staff began to strategize about program design and implementation.
Through waste studies and analysis of historical solid waste data, staff was able to determine equipment needs and food residuals diversion potential of the partner businesses. Waste studies were conducted at one hotel and the two flight kitchens and revealed that food residuals comprised 20 to 25 percent of the waste stream. The four primary waste stream categories used in the audit were compostables, recyclable containers, other recyclables and nonrecyclables.
At Gate Gourmet, the waste stream is comprised of deplaned waste from multiple airlines as well as waste generated at its facility. Kitchen prep and deplaned airline food residuals made up the bulk of the compostables stream (42 percent by weight of all waste audited). However, many of the potentially recyclable and compostable materials are still in their packaging, making the economics of diverting them unfeasible (as the packages would need to be opened, sorted and then diverted). LSG-Sky Chefs, with 34 percent of its waste stream compostable, had a similar composition to Gate Gourmet (kitchen prep and deplaned airline food waste, some of it packaged). Both companies’ compostables also included soiled fibers.
The majority of the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel’s waste stream consists of waste generated in food prep areas, guest rooms and administrative offices. Recyclable fibers make up the largest category (34 percent by weight). Compostable food and fibers were 21 percent by weight of the waste stream. An audit was not conducted at the Embassy Suites Hotel but on-site walk-throughs and conversations with hotel staff revealed significant interest and potential to capture organics from the waste stream.
The waste studies were funded by the City of Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development (OSD) as the City was interested in obtaining data on the waste stream composition of these types of businesses. A report, Commercial Food Composting Policy Analysis, published by the City of Portland in May 2003 detailed food residuals diversion potential for different types of institutions. According to the report, food processors with 20 to 49 employees have an estimated diversion potential of 391 lbs/week and hotels with 50 to 99 employees have an estimated diversion potential of 1,525 lbs/week.
The waste sorts confirmed the report estimates and provided enough evidence to justify the creation of a partner food waste collection route. It was anticipated that over 1.9 tons of compostables/ week would be diverted from the partner businesses. Adding in the over 2.6 tons/week from PDX, the total weekly diversion was expected to be almost 4.5 tons, or over 230 tons annually. This is a solid contribution to the City of Portland’s estimated recovery rate of 27,000 tons of postconsumer food residuals tons annually. (See “10 Lessons From 10 Years of Food Residuals Diversion Planning,” July 2005, for an update of the Portland region’s program.) As of July 26, 2005, the average weekly diversion from the partner businesses and PDX is five tons, exceeding initial estimates.
ROLLING OUT COLLECTION
While the collection route was technically feasible, the next challenge was to obtain funding to conduct a pilot to prove it could work. Port of Portland and CES staff applied for a grant offered through the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Solid Waste, Recycling and Household Hazardous Waste Grant Program to cover equipment and labor costs. The grant provided funding for equipment and staffing to assist the businesses with project set-up.
At the same time as the Port was developing the partner program, they were also hiring a new solid waste and recycling hauler. The new hauler, Gresham Sanitary Service, was able and agreeable to serve as the food residuals hauler for the partner businesses. After confirming that the partner businesses’ existing solid waste management contracts allowed them to utilize another hauler for food residuals collection, the hauler visited the businesses and developed short-term collection contracts. The partner businesses also agreed to incur small price increases for waste hauling during the course of the pilot with the general expectation that over the long term, food residuals diversion would reduce their solid waste bills.
A variety of methods were used to educate and collaborate with the partner businesses. For example, a luncheon held five months before program implementation served as a forum for the partner business managers to meet each other and ask questions about the program. Staff also visited the businesses to evaluate the logistics of food residuals diversion. Site visits were complemented by e-mail updates to keep the partners informed of ongoing activities.
The partner businesses were ready to begin participating by the summer of 2004. The greatest barrier to implementing the program was the lack of a regional facility to accept postconsumer food residuals (including vegetative waste, grains, dairy, meats, bones and plate-scrapings). This barrier was removed when a regional processor – Cedar Grove Composting in Maple Valley, Washington – was identified by Metro, the Portland area’s regional waste authority. The Metro NW transfer facility began accepting these materials in late January 2005. The partner businesses were brought on board shortly thereafter.
DEQ funds were used to purchase equipment, as well as provide technical assistance to plan, implement and evaluate the program. Educational materials, provided free of charge by the City of Portland, included colorful, bilingual laminated signs that depict what items are acceptable in the food residuals program. These signs were placed strategically throughout the businesses kitchens and serve as an effective training tool. A portion of the DEQ grant funds were directed towards the purchase of dollies to be attached to the base of round green 25-gallon cans, also provided by the City of Portland. With the dollies attached, kitchen staff can easily transport collected food residuals from various kitchen locations to a central collection container. DEQ grant funds were also used to purchase 23 gallon slimline containers for strategic placement in the kitchens. These containers are more functional in particular kitchen locations than the round, 25-gallon cans.
The hauler services the central collection containers weekly. The two sky kitchens are known to have more business during the summer while the two hotels are known to have varying business (and waste disposal) patterns that are not directly related to airport traffic and more directly related to hotel conference traffic. Instead of adding an additional collection day each week to handle greater quantities (which we have determined would add great cost to the program), the plan is to add more front load containers or increase the size of the existing one (from 3 to 4 cubic yard containers). Space constraints could become an issue, but that situation will be addressed as needed.
The first haul took place on Saturday, April 2, 2005 and has continued without interruption or major incident since. Through July, the partners and the airport have diverted an average of 22.5 tons each month, for a total of 90 tons. After four months of hauling, the partnership has proven to be a success from a diversion and logistics perspective. Staff is working with partner businesses and the hauler to track quantities diverted from each business and identify solid waste disposal reduction. The hauler provides weekly and monthly reports to the Port of Portland regarding the amount of food residuals collected at each business and any contamination problems. The main contaminants are plastics from plate scrapings (half-and-half containers, jellies, other kinds of plastic wraps), as well as assorted, random materials put into the dumpsters. The program depends on the partner businesses to regulate this contamination, and staff has helped with signage for specific businesses.
A strong commitment to communication between the hauler and the participating businesses has proven to be a key to the success of the program. With large amounts of food residuals being diverted from the waste stream, a decrease in the businesses’ solid waste weights and cost are expected to occur over the long-term. These developments will be closely monitored as the businesses participating in the pilot phase of the project will be expected to take on all of the program costs on their own at the end of August.
The Partners for Food Waste Diversion Pilot project is a well-coordinated operation that runs smoothly on the ground because of the upfront efforts made to ensure the program’s success. The Port of Portland, with assistance from Portland State University’s Community Environmental Services, has championed the program. Enthusiastic participation of the partner businesses, assistance from the Port, grant funding from DEQ, equipment and technical and infrastructural support from the City of Portland and Metro have added up to produce a successful model for food residuals collection. The willingness of the Port’s hauler to collaborate has been an asset to the project as well. Through this collaboration, the Food Waste Diversion partnership may soon prove that economical commercial-scale food residuals diversion is possible in the Portland Metro region.
Paul Rosenbloom is a graduate student in the Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University. He works with Community Environmental Services (CES), a research and service organization within the Center for Urban Studies. CES has been working on a Waste Reduction and Recycling contract with the Port of Portland for three years. He can be reached at email@example.com. Sheryl Bunn is a Project Manager at Community Environmental Services and oversees the Port of Portland project. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stan Jones is the Remediation and Waste Project Manager at the Port of Portland and can be reached at email@example.com.