Stink and Pests Sour Ashland’s Compost Service – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

The system put in place to compost food waste from downtown restaurants has gotten out of hand

Ashland’s composting and recycling service for downtown restaurants has been discontinued, but city officials said they hope to design a better system in the future.

“There have been problems almost all the time, but recently it has become too much,” said Mike Morrison, assistant director of public works for the city of Ashland.

The facility next to the Community Development Building in downtown Ashland has provided recycling and composting services to nearby restaurants for years.

Gary Blake, general manager of Ashland Recology, guessed the program likely dated back to 2010. The locked enclosure with sorting bins was the first and only composting service Recology offered.

“It’s the most difficult type of waste collection ever,” Blake said.

The trucks must be airtight to prevent the often moisture-laden waste from leaking out, Blake explained. The smell is often an invitation to flies and rodents. Because Recology only offered this service at one location, food waste didn’t have a home of its own. It could go to the same facility used for green waste and yard debris, but sometimes it was trucked to Eugene, where municipal composting is a more robust service with facilities to match, Blake said.

Added to these challenges is the classic recycling problem: customers don’t always sort materials appropriately, and when they don’t, they ruin the whole process.

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

Morrison said the floor was frequently littered with broken glass and spilled cooking oil, a significant safety risk. Food was tossed into the glass bin, glass was wrapped in plastic and waste was tossed into the compost bin, a mix of materials that makes all the effort futile, he said.

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

Over the past two years, Morrison said, the problems have gotten worse.

“For the past two years, everything has been weird,” he said. “That’s just one more thing to add to the list.”

A recent meeting between city staff, Recology and a restaurant owner put the finishing touches to the composting experiment, said Morrison, who declined to identify the restaurant owner. Listening to the restaurant owner, the staff agreed that the establishment had reached a new height of problems and asked Recology to shut down the service.

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

Recology intends to walk around and talk to customers who have used the service before removing the bins, Blake said. The effort is meant to give them fair warning of the end of the service and start troubleshooting on how to fix it.

Blake said he thinks some sort of composting service could succeed, both in popularity with customers and in overcoming the inherent challenges of food waste.

Recology staff are looking for ways to provide the service, he said. Soon, staff will go on a field trip to a Northern California Cooperative Center to see a new method of food waste management in action.

“You just need to find the solution that’s right for your situation – and we haven’t given up on that far,” Blake said.

Morrison said city staff were optimistic that with proper resolution of the issues, composting services would be back.

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

Contact Morgan Rothborne, Mail Tribune reporter, at [email protected] or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.