Sep 22, 2023 - Business

Composting rules roll out for majority of Portland businesses

An image of a green trash can with the words "Food Only" printed on it.

Composting is required for Portland metro businesses that generate more than 500 pounds of food waste, starting Sept. 30. Photo: Courtesy of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

Food businesses across Portland will soon be required to compost their food waste, if they're not already, or risk fines.

Why it matters: The new requirement, enacted this year by nearly two dozen local governments in the region, is an effort to cut food waste and turn it into nutrient-rich fertilizer for farms, city parks, community gardens and soil amendment projects.

  • America wastes more than 100 billion pounds, or 40%, of its food each year — the majority of which ends up in landfills and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions via the methane it emits.

Driving the news: Starting on Sept. 30, all businesses that produce up to 500 pounds of food waste per week will be required to separate scraps from garbage to compost. This includes many restaurants, bars, college and university cafeterias, specialty food markets and hotels.

  • The requirement, set by Metro, is already in place for businesses generating a lot of food waste — more than 1,000 pounds — like grocery stores and food manufacturers.
  • By this time next year, the majority of food businesses across Metro's 24 cities and three counties will need to be compost compliant.

A green, 60-gallon curbside bin filled to the brim with banana peels, leftover takeout, half-eaten french fries and wilted lettuce is roughly 250 pounds.

  • Metro anticipates over 59,000 tons of food waste will be collected from 3,000 Portland-area businesses per year — scraps are then taken to the Recology Aumsville processing facility in Salem to be turned into compost.

Flashback: In 2005, Portland was one of the first cities to adopt a voluntary composting program for businesses, and by 2021 nearly 1,400 were participating.

  • Residents have had the option to set out food scraps for curbside compost since 2011.

What's happening: Over the last year, officials have been reaching out to businesses to notify them. Starting in 2025, random spot checks will be conducted to ensure compliance.

  • Any business not adhering to the requirement after an initial warning may receive a penalty starting at $200.

Yes, but: Issuing a penalty will be rare, according to Lindsey Maser, a spokesperson for Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

  • "We lead with education and assistance," she said. "Fines are used as a last resort if a business refuses to work towards meeting our requirements."

The bottom line: For some Portland business owners, composting has been built into their ethos since the beginning.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that it is college and university cafeterias (not school cafeterias) that have to meet the new composting requirements.

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