February 27, 2011

Portland Fix-It Fair

The Trashmaster is back from another personal appearance, this time at the Fix-It Fair.

The Fix-It Fair is a Saturday full of cool stuff for just about everybody. As you walked in, there was a booth for lead blood testing and some folks doing free bike tune-ups & repairs. Around one corner, childcare was available so the grownups could go to workshops on topics like backyard composting, home painting, building personal credit, doing simple home repairs and much more. Around another corner were the information booths. There was information on everything from low-flow toilets & showerheads to computer & other electronics recycling to Trauma Nurses Talk Tough (wear your helmets! These folks really don’t want to see you in their ERs!) to why you shouldn’t dig deep holes in your yard without checking in with the utility companies first. There was an hourly raffle for cool stuff. Many of the information booths had really useful freebies (CFL bulbs! Mops & buckets! Equipment to transform your toilet and shower into low-flow wonders!) Lunch was even provided for all information fair attendees – how can you argue with that?

I had a good time at this fair. Lots of people to talk to! Lots to see and do!

Metro had a couple of booths at the Fix-It Fair. The “Healthy Homes” booth talked about using greener cleaners and cutting down on toxic household products. The “Be Resourceful!” booth had information about cutting down on food waste. They also gave away super-snazzy reusable lunch sacks and grocery bags. Next door to them, I helped staff the “Portland Recycles!” booth. I think the exclamation point suggests we could be a musical. For about four hours, I talked with people about curbside and other recycling. The biggest questions I received? “When are we getting our food composting program?” (at least 2/3 of the people I talked with asked this) and “Why can’t I put my plastic lids in my curbside recycling?” (at least half of the people I talked with asked this)

Second question first: The plastic lid question is easy and frustrating. Yes, your plastic lids are recyclable. No, the city won’t be picking them up curbside anytime soon. One of the big problems with plastic lids is that they often get mistaken for paper or get caught up in the paper in the Material Recovery Facilities. Which means the lids get sent off to the paper mills and either cause a bunch of the paper pulp to get junked, or they get chopped up and become part of the paper which means the paper is of seriously poor quality. Either way, bad news.

First and biggest question: What’s the deal with the food composting program? A little history: About a year ago, the city started a pilot project for residential curbside food composting. About 2,000 households participate in this program. They put their food scraps – everything from vegetables and fruits to eggshells and pizza boxes to Chinese takeout and meat bones – into their yard debris containers along with the leaves and branches and grass clippings. This all gets sent off to a specialized composting facility. Right now, the city is watching this pilot program very closely, making sure they work out all the bugs – literally and figuratively. Portlanders in general are extremely supportive of the residential composting plan. Already, Portland-area businesses can sign up for food composting. Why not residents?

Residential food waste makes up almost 30% of Portland’s total waste. Holy cow! That’s huge! We can’t get partway into it and then say “LOL, Composting. Yer doin it wrong. FAIL!” We have to make sure we have a good plan in place. There needs to be (1) an appropriate site, (2) the right building plan, (3) funds with which to build it, (4) all the permits need to be in place (wouldn’t that suck? To not get our eagerly-awaited composting facility all because of a couple of unsigned slips of paper?), and (5) the whole process needs to work from the get-go. I have no doubt that once all those pieces are in place, I have no doubt that the minute the ink is dry on the last legal form, that it will be all over the news that FINALLY, AT LAST we can compost our food waste curbside.

Read about the pilot program and other residential food composting info here:

The Oregonian, 2/23/10
Environmental & Water Resources Institute newsletter
Neighborhood Notes
Metro’s Waste reduction fast facts: Compost
Business food composting in the Portland/Metro area
DEQ information on commercial and residential composting

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