Sarah Mirk

ANOTHER WEEK in Portland City Council, another hot discussion over the merits of composting.

If Mayor Sam Adams would refrain for a single week from sponsoring resolutions clearly written on the set of Portlandia, it would be a nice change of pace. But, hey, he's all about supporting the local film industry, so—here we are. Talking about compost. Very controversial compost!

Here's the deal: The city wants people to stop putting all their food scraps into the regular trashcan and instead put them into the green yard-waste bin. Tempeh nuggets, New York Times-lauded novelty pie slices, E. coli-laced strawberries, the whole shebang goes in the yard-waste bin.

This seems like it would be a simple change, but somehow it's slated to cost $1.15 million and require hiring seven temporary staffers.

It also requires changing regular, non-compost trash pickup to every other week, because running all three services (trash, recycling, socialist food-scrap relocation program) every week would add up to $8 to our monthly bills. The 20 percent of people who are the biggest trash tossers will see their rates increase anyway under the new plan, even with the service switch.

How the hell did composting become so expensive? I throw my old food onto a heaping pile in the backyard that I swear will one day turn into a garden when I get around to it. And it's free!

Well, some of the cost is completely necessary. City Solid Waste and Recycling Program Manager Bruce Walker explains that operating industrial composting facilities have a higher cost than regular landfills, because they have to get more complicated environmental permitting.

That's ironic—state agencies should incentivize composting by making it cheaper for more sustainable landfills to operate. In the bright future, it should cost more to throw away your Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes than to let the uneaten cheesy bits industrially biodegrade (Does Kraft biodegrade? That's a question for the bright future to answer).

But I think the amount spent on staffing is questionable. The jobs are short term—three to 10 months—and I can see the city being deluged with questions when the program launches in October. But really? Seven people to say, "Put food in the bin. Yes, all food! That's not food, nitwit"?

City council hears the compost resolution this Wednesday, August 10, and votes August 17. Until then, I will be fielding questions about what is and is not food at the rate of $20 an hour. Your sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free kale cake? Not food. Okay, whatever, it is. Give me $20.