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Stan Jones has always been fascinated by what people throw away. Although his official role at the Port of Portland is land quality manager, where he ensures that airport properties are in compliance with environmental regulations, he wears a second hat as manager of the Port’s waste minimization program.
Much of his focus is on Portland International Airport. With 10,000 employees and an average of almost 40,000 travelers passing through each day, it’s like a small city.
Jones does everything from contemplating how to increase PDX’s landfill diversion rates to tackling worldwide challenges, like how old escalator handrails could be repurposed or how disposable coffee cups can be recycled. His big job is made easier with help from a team of students from Portland State University’s Community Environmental Services program. For the past 10 years, CES students have served as foot soldiers in PDX’s fight against waste and one of their areas of focus is encouraging the many restaurant tenants at PDX to compost.
Since 2003, through studies, outreach campaigns and incentives, Jones and his CES team have gotten PDX’s composting rate up to about 12 to 14 tons each month. But, not one to rest on his laurels, Jones and his team looked down into the depths of their compost bins and saw something disturbing – really, really good quality food. There were sandwiches and salads, breakfast pastries and parfaits whose only crime was that they sat in the display case for more than a day.
They weren’t the only ones cringing over the sight of high quality food destined for garden mulch. Walking the same concourse halls multiple times a day was Port Concessions Operations Manager Walt Marchbanks.
A 10-year veteran of the food service industry, Marchbanks had felt the first twinges of guilt watching food go to waste when he worked in event concessions. Although it was hard to watch all the food thrown away at the end of a big event night, day-old hot dogs and nachos were hardly the nutritional items that people facing hunger on a daily basis needed.
That all changed when Marchbanks got hired on at PDX. Airport restaurants prepare ready-to-eat food for hungry travelers — a lot of it geared toward health-conscious and foodie Portlanders. Many vendors only display their offerings for a day or two, but U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards deem that prepackaged foods are acceptable for consumption for up to seven days when properly stored. This fact, and the high quality food offered at PDX, left a window of opportunity for Jones and Marchbanks to help airport tenants get good food into the hands and mouths of people who need it.
“None of our airport employees like to see food go to waste, but it’s a challenging problem for an individual employee or tenant to solve,” Jones says, “The time was right, and all the pieces were there to get a program going. We just needed people who were passionate about making it happen by overcoming some logistical hurdles.”
Food safety, liability, airport security access and determining the best place to send the food all needed to be addressed to get the program going. The Oregon Food Bank referred Jones to St. Vincent DePaul of Portland (SVdP), which was a great fit due to their ability to get food out to meals programs quickly.
In February, after months of coordination, a centralized cooler was in place and SVdP came for their first pick-up.
“From talking up the program with tenants, I knew that there was enthusiasm for it, but I was blown away by the amount of food we collected in the first week,” says Marchbanks.
Within two weeks, Jones and Marchbanks had to hunt down a bigger cooler for all the food. The program was so popular by then that one of the non-restaurant tenants chipped in to buy a bigger cooler. In five months, the program has already provided the equivalent of more than 6,000 meals to SVdP.
Now that the route is set up, Jones’ CES team is reaching out to nearby flight kitchens, hotels and restaurants.
“We already have the pick-up route set up with St. Vincent dePaul, so we’re hoping to get some of our neighbors involved so that we can come close to filling the truck every trip and provide an even bigger benefit to the community,” says Jones.
In June, Marchbanks and Jones were honored to share the success of the program with United Nations delegates visiting Portland for World Environment Day. This year’s theme was “Reduce Your Foodprint.”