Metro is going back to the drawing board in its grand plan to convert the Portland area’s food scraps into renewable energy, after failing to come to terms with Waste Management to build a processing facility in conjunction with the Portland sewage treatment plant in North Portland.

In January, Metro named Waste Management its top choice among six companies responding to the regional government’s request for proposals, and the two spent the good part of a year in fruitless talks trying to agree to contract terms. The two parties couldn’t agree on the price Metro would pay to Waste Management and the company’s requested guarantee of a certain amount of food scraps needed each day to make the project pencil out.

Metro is keen on recycling or reducing food scraps because they constitute roughly one-fifth of the garbage the region currently sends to the landfill in Eastern Oregon (operated by Waste Management). When that decomposes, it emits methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

In July, the elected Metro Council passed a new mandate to larger businesses and government agencies whose operations produce food waste, requiring them to separate it from their regular trash so it can be reprocessed. The mandate will phase in over the next five years.

Metro and others had argued that voluntary recycling of food scraps by restaurants and groceries had only yielded about 25,000 tons of food scraps a year, but twice that amount was needed to make a biodigester pencil out — hence the new mandate.

But now Metro is changing its thinking.

During the course of lengthy negotiations with Waste Management, Metro realized it might be able to do things cheaper than one large $30 million to $50 million facility in North Portland, Slyman said. Now it hopes to restart its solicitation process by seeking multiple, smaller facilities in the Portland area, that might be even closer to the source of food scraps.

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