Storm Landscape Services Shares Transition to Electric Equipment

An interview with Randy Mihalko, Owner STORM Landscape Services

How did you get the electric contract with the city?

We have a good relationship with the Public Works Department. They invited us to submit a proposal in 2021 for the landscape maintenance program for what they call the Multi-Site Landscape Maintenance contract. In order to be invited to submit proposals for their contracts you have to meet their criteria which we do. The contract selection process has a grading system based on price, experience, references, personnel, etc. We were selected for the contract based on their grading process. They requested two prices; one for gas equipment and one for electric equipment. Public Works then submitted both of those prices to the City Council to vote on. I had a meeting with them to answer questions about the gas versus electric and they voted in favor of the electric contract. I believe the vote was 4 to 3 so it was not unanimous.

How many electric crews do you have? How many gas crews?

We have 15 total landscape maintenance crews and 6 of them are strictly electric. The other 9 crews are gas with a few electric backpack blowers mixed in depending on the customer contracts.

Do you intend to add more electric crews? Does electric-powered work cost more than gas-powered work done by your company?

Yes, approximately 20-30% more depending on the scope of work. More deciduous trees and more lawn means higher percentage cost.

What are some of the other large accounts you have using electric equipment?

Electric contracts are with the City of Lake Oswego, Portland General Electric, and Providence Hospitals. Both are very large contracts. We have hybrid contracts with Mary’s Woods Retirement Community and Arranmore HOA.

Can you take on any more commercial work?

Commercial, yes.

What are the pros and cons of transitioning to electric landscaping equipment for commercial landscapers?

Pros…

1. quieter (less intrusive and healthier for customers and employees).
2. no emission (healthier for environment and employees)
3. less mechanical maintenance (no oil, spark plugs, filters, belts, etc to replace)
4. longer warranty period
5. fuel savings

Cons…

  • initial cost of equipment is much higher
    • 60″ mower is $24k for electric (Greenworks Optimus) versus $10k for gas (Exmark Vertex)
    • backpack blower is $8k for electric (tool, chargers, 16 batteries) versus $600 for gas
    • backpack blower is about half as productive as gas (all other equipment and mowers are same productivity as gas)
  • invest in electric infrastructure to charge batteries
    • up size circuit panel, install sub-panels, install additional circuits and outlets in shop $8k
    • up size PGE meter (our panel is maxed based on the size of our meter, waiting 3 months for PGE design team, still unsure of cost)
  • mobile refueling limitations
    • with gas equipment we have cans of gas to refuel, with battery equipment it requires a mobile battery charging system
      • fabricated a battery generator charging system in enclosed trailer $11k for trailer, $9k for battery generators and charging system
      • install 30 amp RV outlets in the yard @ $4k per trailer

What advice would you give to other commercial landscaping companies transitioning to electric?

Plan on considerable start up costs as noted above and lots of training for employees. During leaf season plan on considerably higher labor costs to make up for the backpack blower production shortfall.

Defining Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Most of us have heard the three R’s:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Since that time, there have been creative extensions that include rethinking and refusing.  What do these words really mean?   Why are they in a particular order?   They are a hierarchy to represent what provides the greatest benefit:  benefit to your pocketbook, benefit to the environment. 

Choosing Products for Sustainability

Reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink and refuse

The ten questions on choosing products for sustainability, help guide thoughtful purchasing decisions.  The first question, Do I really need the product?  can result in thought-provoking alternatives such as sharing or borrowing, inventive solutions as well as more thoughtful and reduced consumption.

  1.   Do I really need the product?       
  2.   Is the product safe to use?
  3.   Is it practical, durable, of good quality with a timeless design?
  4.   Is the product made from renewable or recycled materials taken in a sustainable way?
  5.   Are the manufacturing practices moving towards sustainability? 
  6.   How will I dispose of the product and with what impacts? 
  7.   What kind of package does the product have?
  8.   How far has the product been shipped to reach the retail outlet?
  9.   Is the product a good value for the money?
  10. Is there some environmental, health, personal, or economic benefit that outweighs the product’s environmental costs?

– from Debra Dadd-Redalia, Sustaining the Earth

Re-Think

  • Share and borrow items
  • Give experiences as gifts and rethink favors at events
  • ASK: How do we re-think systems to avoid needless/wasteful consumption

Refuse

  • Avoid freebies at events which collect dust in your closet
  • Say no to plastic – use cloth bags, reusable bottles and to-go containers

Reduce – Buy Less Stuff

  • Avoid packaging whenever you can.
  • Take reusable bags and produce bags.
  • Use reusable containers and take your mug.
  • When something breaks, see if you can get it fixed. Bring it to a local repair fair
  • Reduce use of single use paper; use cloth napkins, rags, and washclothes

Reuse

  • Shop at secondhand stores.
  • Subscribe to the Bold Reuse container services. Find Bold Reuse containers at New Seasons for use at the deli, bulk containers and olive bar. Many Portland area restaurants use Bold Reuse containers for to-go use.
  • Reuse wrapping paper or create your own from brown paper bags or newspapers.
  • When you have an item you no longer need, find someone who can use it on the Trash Nothing (free) website or donate it.
  • When you need something on an occasional basis, check if it is available in the Lake Oswego Library of Things, or see if you can borrow it from a friend or neighbor

Recycle Wisely

If you use curbside recycling, verify that your items are on the Clackamas County curbside recycling list before putting them in the recycling bin. 

If you have questions 

  • Call Metro’s Recycling Information Hotline at 503-234-3000   
  • Email Clackamas County at wasteinfo@clackamas.us

 How effective is recycling for the materials we commonly recycle?

  • Metals – recycling metals is very effective. For example, an aluminum can is almost infinitely recyclable and it is less energy intensive than making new cans. Manufacturing a new can is so energy intensive that a recycled aluminum can has a 95 percent smaller carbon footprint than making that same can from virgin aluminum.
  • Glass – most glass (bottles and jars) can be recycled again and again.
  • Paper – paper recycling is valuable and saves lots of emissions and trees. However, the effectiveness is limited by the number of times it can be recycled without degradation.
  • Plastics are the most problematic because there are so many types which are not recyclable. The key to sustainability is to avoid plastic whenever you can.

Frequently Asked Questions About Recycling in Lake Oswego

By Jim Newcomer, LOSN Materials Management Team

Amanda Watson manages the city’s sustainability program, and that includes managing responsibly the waste the city and its people generate. To get answers to some of the recycling questions we all face weekly, we sent her a couple of questions, and she provided answers that we can all use.

For citizens who mean well and intend to recycle as much as we can, it can be daunting to remember exactly what is recyclable. And when we look at a plastic object, we may want to recycle it even though the chart on the refrigerator doesn’t mention it.

To find out, many people call Amanda.

Answering those calls is not a simple job.

I was curious about what people want to know from the city coordinator who supervises all the collection choices. I asked her in advance of sitting down in person: what are the most frequently asked questions about recycling?

She wrote back:

What do I do with….?

Many of the questions I get about recycling and disposal are from people wanting to know how to responsibly get rid of more unusual or infrequently disposed of household items, everything from fluorescent light tubes to large amounts of cardboard to old office supplies.

People are always welcome to call me with questions, but the best first place to look would be Metro’s online Find A Recycler website. Just put in your address and what you are looking to dispose of, and you will get a list of locations sorted by distance to you for reuse, recycling, and/or disposal of those items. Metro also has a fully-staffed recycling hotline that people can call with questions: 503-234-3000.

Questions about recycling plastic

In the Metro region, whether or not plastic is recyclable depends on the shape and size of the item, not on the recycling symbol or number it may be labeled with. All plastic bottles, jugs, round containers and buckets between 6 oz – 5 gallons, and nursery plant containers 4 in wide and larger are recyclable. Caps and lids must be removed and put in the trash as they are too small to be sorted by the recycling machines.

This means that things like square plastic containers for berries and salad greens (“clamshells”) are not recyclable curbside. These need to go in the garbage, or they can be disposed of at New Seasons stores.

Unfortunately we do see people putting non-recyclable types of plastic into their curbside recycling bins hoping they are recyclable. While I understand the wish that more materials could get recycled, this “wishcycling” creates contamination which is costly for recycling facilities to sort out.

Plastic items that can be recycled in Lake Oswego

What do I do with old batteries?

As of 2023, residents of single-family homes in Clackamas County can recycle batteries curbside. Follow the preparation instructions in the graphic below.

Batteries are considered hazardous waste, and pose safety issues when they are improperly disposed of. If you don’t live in a single-family home, you will need to take your used batteries to the Metro south hazardous waste facility (disposal is free for household amounts) or a retail business in the area that accepts batteries for recycling (check Find a Recycler!).

When we met in person, she shared that we can expect some major changes in the coming year. In 2021 the Oregon Legislature passed the Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act, which is designed to ensure that plastics get recycled and that the companies that produce them pay to make it happen. When the law takes effect in 2025, she said, we can expect a simpler set of packaging materials, and we will be able to recycle most of them.

Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act

For too long the manufacturers of plastics have evaded their responsibility for the piles of discarded plastics that plague the world in so many ways. But that era is coming to an end soon.

Back in 2021, Oregon’s legislature passed Senate Bill 582, the Recycling Modernization Act. It created a method to implement Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for the recyclability of packaging materials sold in Oregon. At that time, Oregon was only one of two states to enact a law of this kind, with Maine having been the first. 

The Act directed the DEQ to establish a Recycling System Advisory Council, comprised of representatives from local governments, community-based organizations representing historically underserved groups, small businesses, the recycling industry, processors or material end users, and producers of the products specified in the act. The Council has been hard at work writing the rules that will make this Act a reality. The Council is responsible for the initial development and implementation phase of the Act and will remain in place in perpetuity. 

To fund this new state-wide system, producers of items covered by this new law will pay an annual fee to join a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) no later than July 1, 2025.  The PRO will ensure that these producers:

  1. Sell in our state only material specified in the act that can be recycled responsibly and transparently.
  2. Fund a commodity risk fee to make money available to recycling processing facilities to stabilize the cost of recycling.
  3. Develop resources for residents to properly prepare materials for recycling.

Here are a few answers to common questions about the new law:

What does this mean for the citizens of Oregon?
One key objective of this Act is to provide seamless recycling programs across the entire state of Oregon for most types of packaging and food service ware, with a focus on plastics.  If you can recycle an item in the Portland Metro Area, it will also be recyclable in every other community of Oregon as well, although the method by which a specific item is collected for recycling may differ.  

What is on the new, expanded statewide list of recyclables?
The Uniform Statewide Collection List (USCL) has grown from what materials had been recyclable prior to this law.  The current list as of January 2024 is available online and linked here

Here are a few materials that are new to the list:

  • Paper or plastic plates
  • Styrofoam Clamshells intended for single use, such as take-out containers
  • Tissue paper (packaging, not facial or sanitary)
  • Paperback books (hardback books are excluded)
  • Polyethylene film
  • Blocks of white expanded polystyrene

By July 1, 2025, the items on the USCL will be collected statewide for recycling.

I live in a multi-family community.  How does this law increase my access to recycling?
The implementation of this law in multi-family communities begins with a needs assessment by Oregon DEQ, which is due in September of 2024, followed by a two-year period of planning and technical assistance.  The new requirements for multifamily housing will take effect on July 1, 2026.  In addition the law will require DEQ to complete a new needs assessment every 4 years to ensure effective and equitable opportunities for their tenants or condo owners to recycle moving forward.

Will my garbage and recycling rates increase because of this new law?
The short answer is no.  The intent of the law is for the producers of the packaging, printed paper, and food service ware to pay for improvements to the current recycling infrastructure.  Research performed across Canada between markets with and without EPR rules found no correlation between product pricing and the presence of EPR requirements.

How can I learn more about this law?
The Oregon DEQ website has a page specifically regarding the implementation of the Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act with lots of information including short videos and a monthly newsletter. The link is provided below, along with several others on this topic.

USEFUL LINKS:

Department of Environmental Quality : Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act : Recycling : State of Oregon

Department of Environmental Quality : Oregon Recycling System Advisory Council : Recycling : State of Oregon

recRMAImpTimeline.pdf (oregon.gov)

rscRRSconsumer.pdf (oregon.gov)