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Other areas look to Portland as model for successful recycling program

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Portlanders kept 70 percent of all garbage out of the landfill by recycling last year. City leaders say that doubles the national rate of nearly 35 percent.

"We are ecstatic about Portlanders excitement and love of recycling," said Bruce Walker, Solid Waste and Recycling Program Manager for the City of Portland.

It's a dedication to recycling that's long been part of Oregon's culture. Though, the City of Portland says the call to begin the curbside collection of food scraps in 2011 was a game changer. At the time the city was one of only a few in the country to do so.

Five years later, Portland's program has become a national success model and beyond that the city says people from around the world call them to learn how to operate more like the Rose City.

"We look around the country and the recycling rate is half of what Portland does," said Walker. "It's not just our program, it's the people here who make a difference on that."

FOX 12 was invited to tour the composting facility where all of those food scraps are dumped.

"At Recology here in North Plains, Oregon currently houses 55,000 tons annually," said Recology Organics Manager Nick Olheiser. 

Olheiser says 90 percent of all the material on site comes from the Portland metro area. A combination of yard debris and food scraps now being saved from the landfill.

"Recology has taken on a system such as an aeration system and the reason we do that, is because there's an enhanced efficiency to produce the compost in 60 days," Olheiser said.

Olheiser says there's a lot that they've worked on in five years' time to control the smell of the compost facility for surrounding neighbors. All steaming piles of debris are first placed on individual zones, that are also on top of air pads.

"The zones have pipes underneath them that are channeled to blower system, that blower system is then connected to a fan that sucks air down through the pipes," said Olheiser. "So were bringing in the ambient air through the material and pushing it through the blower system and then we push that air through a bio filter."

They monitor the piles constantly as they decompose.

"We're checking daily. We check their temps, their oxygen levels, their pH levels, all the way to the moisture level itself," said Olheiser. "We're ensuring we're creating a good environment for these microorganisms to work and break down the material itself."

Olheiser believes this model will be the future of all composting.

"I think it's a very aggressive approach and I think it's what we need. It's kind of good vs. great and good is the enemy of great," said Olheiser. "So by going out there and being aggressive and capitalizing on this and diverting this trash from our landfills, we're not just able to keep it out from getting buried, but we're able to translate that into a beneficial product for consumers." 

City leaders seem to agree.

"It's pretty exciting for us," said Walker.

The focus now, maintaining this momentum by reaching out to the mobs of people moving to Portland from out of state. The city sends out newsletters and recruits volunteers to go out into neighborhoods to teach newcomers how Portland recycles.

"People can make a difference in their daily habits and that's really important," said Walker.

A change in behavior, to change the world.

"Many people are interested in environmental issues and what can we do on a daily basis and recycling is something very simple to do," said Walker.

The city says those volunteers who go out in neighborhoods are called "master recyclers" and they're looking to recruit more people who are interested in helping them out.

For more information on the program visit: www.masterrecycler.org or www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/41461

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