2019.09.30.EMG.SEN.atrium building-2.jpg

The Atrium Building in downtown Eugene, Ore. houses Eugene city government offices. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Starting today, the city of Eugene will implement a new Curbside Composting Program for Eugene residential communities to increase recycling, composting and waste reduction outside of campus life.

According to the city of Eugene’s website, 40 million pounds of food waste ends up in the local landfill annually, half of which comes from homes in town.

Michael Wisth, waste prevention and green building program manager for the city of Eugene, said that putting food waste into landfill significantly increases methane release into the atmosphere.

“When food waste goes to a landfill, it gets covered up,” said Wisth. “When it starts to degrade, it becomes an anaerobic process which produces tons of methane.”

According to the EPA, piling up food waste cuts off access to oxygen and allows greenhouse gases like methane to fester.

Composting limits those greenhouse gas impacts. Rather than cutting off the oxygen from food, it introduces it, and the product can then be recycled into soil. “It holds moisture well,” Wisth said. “In a warming climate, that’s important too.”

The Curbside Composting Program decided to limit its intake to food waste only. The University of Oregon made a similar decision with its composting policies as well. Tea bags, liners, so-called compostable cups, service ware and napkins are not accepted for compost at UO dining centers, the EMU, or through the city of Eugene.

Sustainability is a critical mission of what makes UO and city of Eugene attractive to students and residents. UO has created many programs dedicated to waste prevention and sustainable living. The on-campus Zero Waste program, Student Sustainability Center and ‘grow pod’ indoor garden are some of the few resources that are offered to students.

“Compost vendors statewide including ours recently initiated significant changes to what they will accept,” said Steve Mital, director of the UO Office of Sustainability. Both the city of Eugene Recycling & Solid Waste department and the UO Zero Waste program run through the company Rexius for processing.

“The reason that we’re limiting it to food waste only, and not allowing liners or napkins or tea bags or anything other than food waste, is because all those other items are easily confused with things that are not compostable,” Wisth said. “If we can eliminate all of that by saying ‘food only,’ the message is a lot clearer.”

Curbside Composting will be available to residents who use the local garbage services. They will now have the option to put food waste in with yard debris, all of which will then be taken to processing plants.

The program has been tested the past three years in a successful pilot project, which included over 1,500 households in four Eugene neighborhoods. Wisth said that the pilot helped the trial and error of concerns that may be found with the system. “I’m really excited for this program,” he said. “I think we’re going to have immediate beneficial environmental impacts because of it.”