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County in Oregon Begins Curbside Compost Pickup, Except for Compostable Plastics

Image: North Lincoln Sanitary Service curbside compostable pickup slogan
Very few industrial composting facilities will take so-called compostable plastics, and North Lincoln County Sanitary Service, which is beginning curbside pickup of compostable waste next month, is no exception.

A lack of curbside pickup appears to be one of the obstacles to consumers being able to actually compost their compostable waste. Oregon’s North Lincoln County Sanitary Service is in the process of removing that obstacle: Blue compost bins with brown lids are being distributed to residents over the next two weeks, with curbside pickup scheduled to start on March 1.

So, how will customers know what to put into a compost bin? Well, a simple slogan makes it easy for people to understand: “If it grows, it goes.”

A report in the Newport News Times quoted Colin Teem, Public Information Officer for North Lincoln Sanitary: “After we collect it from the curbside, we’ll take it to our private transfer station and load it onto trailers. Then that gets hauled to Pacific Region Compost near our landfill south of Monmouth. It takes them about 60 to 65 days to compost it using aeration-type composting systems.”

Teem estimated that about “a third of garbage is some sort of organic material that can be recovered and reused by composting” instead of being sent to the landfill. That includes yard clippings, branches, leaves, food waste, kitchen scraps, bones, and small amounts of cardboard, such as individual pizza boxes contaminated with leftover grease and food scraps.

That’s typical of the types of waste most composting facilities will take. In spite of the continued claim of “compostable plastics,” very few industrial composting facilities that I’ve found in my research will take compostable plastics. I called North Lincoln County Sanitary Service to confirm this, and, indeed, it will not take any type of so-called compostable plastic.

It just makes me crazy when I receive a press release touting a new type of compostable plastic when I know that it’s very unlikely that the container or bottle will ever see the inside of an industrial composting facility. I’ve even called companies that claim their products are “compostable in an industrial composting facility” and asked for the names of composting facilities that will take their plastic. Only one time did I get a response with the names of such facilities. When I called them, I found out they did not take compostable plastics. I’ve asked these companies what consumers should do with their containers and bottles if no composting facilities are available or if they won’t take compostable plastic. I was told they should put them in the trash for landfill.

Compostable plastic will not break down far enough and fast enough for companies that sell compost to consumers for their gardens. It seems that people don’t like bits of plastic in their garden compost. North Lincoln County’s new curbside pickup for compostables, excluding compostable plastics, is proof that much of the promotion of compostable plastic truly is greenwashing.

The industry has enough of a black eye from plastic waste issues. We don’t need one more over the idea that compostable plastic will break down in soil (as I’ve seen promoted). It won’t, at least not within a short enough timeframe to satisfy composting companies.

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