Stench and pests sour Ashland compost service

·3 min read

Sep. 8—Ashland's compost and recycling service for downtown restaurants has been discontinued, but city officials said they hope to devise a better system in the future.

"There's been problems pretty much the whole time, but recently it got to the point that it's too much," said Mike Morrison, deputy director of Public Works for the city of Ashland.

The facility next to the Community Development building in downtown Ashland has been offering recycling and compost services to nearby restaurants for years.

Gary Blake, general manager for Ashland Recology, guessed the program probably dated to 2010. The locked enclosure with bins for sorting was the first and only compost service offered by Recology.

"It's the most challenging type of waste collection there is," Blake said.

Trucks have to be airtight to keep the often moisture-laden waste material from leaking, Blake explained. The smell often is an invitation to flies and rodents. Because Recology offered this service in only one place, the food waste had no home of its own. It could go to the same facility used for green waste and yard debris, but sometimes it was trucked up to Eugene, where municipal composting is a more robust service with facilities to match, Blake said.

To these challenges, add the classic recycling problem — customers don't always sort materials appropriately, and when they don't they spoil the whole process.

The facility in downtown Ashland, called an enclosure by Blake, was available to only about 10 customers, and had bins for sorting.

Morrison said the floor frequently was stippled with broken glass and spilled cooking oil, a considerable safety hazard. Food was thrown in the glass bin, glass was being bagged in plastic, and trash was being tossed in the compost bin, a mix of materials that makes the entire effort futile, he said.

If failure to achieve its purpose and safety risks weren't enough, the food waste created an odor and attracted rodents and flies in downtown, Morrison said.

Over the past two years, Morrison said, problems got worse.

"The last couple of years everything has been weird," he said. "This is just one more thing to add to the list."

A recent meeting between city staff, Recology and a restaurant owner put the final nail in the compost experiment, said Morrison, who declined to identify the restaurant owner. As they listened to the restaurant owner, staff agreed the facility had reached a new pinnacle of problems and asked Recology to close down the service.

City staff have theorized that maybe staffing shortages experienced by many businesses led restaurants to hire inexperienced employees with high turnover, leading to the sometimes reckless use of the bins.

Recology intends to go around to the customers who used the service and talk to them before removing the bins, Blake said. The effort is intended to give them fair warning about the end of the service and to begin problem-solving about how to fix it.

Blake said he believes some kind of compost service could be successful, both in popularity with customers and overcoming the challenges inherent to food waste.

Recology staff are searching for ways to provide the service, he said. Soon staff will go on a field trip to a Northern California co-op center to watch a novel food waste method in action.

"You just have to find the solution that works for your situation — and we haven't given up on that by a long shot," Blake said.

Morrison said city staff was optimistic that with appropriate problem-solving, compost services will be back.

The Ashland Recycling Center at 220 Water St. is still open and available for recyclables downtown.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.