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Waste No More



In a famous Supreme Court decision, Justice Louis Brandeis posited that states and cities should be the laboratories for innovative civic ideas; that is, that creative civic policies should first be taken for test spins before being rolled out nationwide. At times, Oregon has been a prime example of such experimentation, like pioneering the Bottle Bill, which encouraged the then-novel idea of recycling by providing a nickel deposit; ultimately it served as the cornerstone of a national movement.

More recently, Portland has been a prime example of such forward thinking. In 2011, then-Mayor Sam Adams brought into play a city-sponsored curbside composting program (on Thursday, Adams will speak at City Club; see page 7). Portland wasn't the first American city to do so—San Francisco has that honor, implementing a citywide program in 2009—but certainly Portland is among the leading cities in the country to address the idea of reducing and reusing waste. And, the results have been remarkable. Regular garbage pickup in Portland has been halved to only every other week, an indication that reiterates results from other cities pioneering curbside composting programs, and also underscores the financial savings of such programs (that is, by halving what goes into landfills, it roughly doubles the lifespan for such sites, a massive savings to municipalities).

By its very definition and practice, sustainability means that a practice does not deplete resources. In this case it would mean reducing ecological damage as well as creating business practices that economically last.

Already such West Coast cities as San Francisco and Portland have adopted citywide composting programs and have seen massive reductions in their trash hauls. Throwaway, nonrecyclable garbage has been reduced by nearly one-third, providing relief to bulging landfills and reducing methane emissions, which lead to global warming. It is estimated that the toxic methane gases produced by rotting organic waste in trash heaps are 20 times as potent as the much-maligned carbon dioxide from cars' tailpipes.

Cities like Madison, Wis., the hometown of Bend City Manager Eric King, have started pilot programs that highlight the economic opportunities for city-sponsored curbside composting. Starting with 500 homes, the city collects all sorts of compostable materials—everything from diapers to greasy pizza boxes—and turns them into prime mulch, that is sold to the public, a practice that essentially pays for the disposal costs. Other cities like Toronto are trying even bolder programs, turning garbage into fuel for their municipal buildings and, potentially, for public sale. Four years ago, Toronto became the first North American city to build an anaerobic digester, which breaks down organic garbage and transforms it into biofuel.

There really does not seem to be an economic downside to composting. Yet the city of Bend apparently has yet to even consider the concept. According to the city's recorder, the idea has not been raised by city councilmembers.

Sure, already a bunch of residents compost their carrot peelings and coffee grounds—and scatter the resulting fertilizer in home gardens and lawns. Curbside composting does not need to take away those opportunities, but expands those benefits from backyards to citywide, all while providing an economically beneficial program.

To spark such interest simply takes someone championing the idea. In Portland and San Francisco, the idea apparently came from City Hall itself. In Madison, the idea orientated and was championed by the city's manager for waste. There is no reason for Bend to not adopt curbside composting—apparently only that no one has presented the idea. Well, now we have. In the mean time, here's the boot.

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