Periodically turning over the compost windrows at the Portland (Ore.) Office of Transportation's Sunderland Recycling Facility assists in the decomposition process. Photos: City of Portland
Leaves from street-sweeping debris collected by the Portland (Ore.) Office of Transportation is piled into windrows, where they decompose until they become usable compost.

The city has been eyeballing recycling requirements for private contractors on capital improvement projects. The agency's reduced tipping fees for concrete recycled by the contractor on one big job resulted in additional recycled product for the city to use or sell, and a reduced project cost.

Another innovation: By blending dirt from a rock-crushing operation with composted leaf matter, the city concocted an environmentally friendly soil mix. PDOT currently is working with the city's Storm-water Division to ensure the blended soil meets requirements for construction and maintenance of stormwater detention and infiltration ponds within the city.

Clean, Green Operation

The environmental friendliness of the Sunderland Recycling Facility goes beyond products it processes and extends to the facility itself.

“The facility serves as a showcase for sustainable efforts, including alternative energy sources, energy-efficiency practices, water-quality techniques, and erosion and sediment control training,” says Jacobsen.

Electricity for the facility's offices and meeting space is now powered by a 10-kW wind turbine mounted on a 100-foot lattice tower. Plans for remodeling an on-site building include a number of green building and energy-conservation factors. Further, the site is landscaped with native plants, and its drainage system includes a detention pond, constructed wetlands, and a water-quality bio swale.

PDOT encourages its employees to generate new ideas on composting, recycling, and other sustainable practices.

“One of the greatest assets of the program is the commitment of our team members,” says Jacobsen. “Our staff [of seven] has more than 60 years of experience—operational knowledge and commitment is vital to the success of the program.”

Compost ambassadors

Well-versed volunteers drive the program in one Missouri city.

The Public Works Department in Columbia, Mo., benefits greatly from people power. Volunteers pick up litter in the Adopt-A-Spot program, greet visitors and direct traffic at mulch sites, and assist with household hazardous waste collection.

According to waste minimization supervisor Layli Terrill, one of the most successful volunteer efforts is the compost collection and education program. For more than 13 years, unpaid constituents have been attending special workshops to learn about the city's composting program. They also learn how to spread the good word.

“The idea was to teach nature's way of recycling organic material, such as leaves, grass clippings, twigs, fruit, and vegetable trimmings, into soil amendments,” she says.

Each season, as many as 20 citizens take part in the compost volunteer training program. They hear details on the city's weekly curbside yard-waste collection, which happens on the same day as conventional waste collection. Next, they're versed in the particulars of the program, such as:

  • Yard waste must be placed in a clear, city-logoed yard-waste bag
  • Brush or tree trimmings too large for bags can be bundled (as long as they're less than 4 feet long, and 2 feet in diameter)
  • Yard waste may also be taken to one of the city's mulch sites or landfill.

Each “compost ambassador” receives a home composter for free or at reduced cost.

Six times a year (three times in spring and three in fall), the volunteers take the knowledge garnered from their training and lead workshops for the general constituent population. The practice increases participation in the composting program, while freeing paid public works personnel to focus on other crucial services.