Landfill Diversion Programs: good for dogs, budgets, and the planet

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. A popular sentiment today, and one frequently practiced in the Pacific Northwest. We are a community striving to protect our environment in every way possible.

According to the Oregon Department of Environment Quality website, “nearly a ton of waste materials per person is landfilled each year.” Further, “the EPA has found that discarded food is either the largest or next single-largest component of America’s solid waste.”

To address the issue, several programs have been created to reduce — or redirect — waste headed unnecessarily for landfills. As it turns out, some of them yield substantial benefits beyond their core missions. A good example is Sustainable Selections, a program begun by Quest Recycling of Frisco, Texas, whose purpose was to divert food product from landfills for redistribution to animal care providers.

Meat products are labeled with a sell-by date indicating their shelf-life, or how long they’re approved for purchase. Perhaps surprisingly, in many cases the sell-by date is not indicative of the product’s quality or freshness. The USDA indicates the actual expiration is approximately three weeks after the sell-by date — making a product that has reached its sell-by date perfectly safe for animals.


Initially, meat products at or beyond their sell-by dates were made available for zoo animals. Today, however, raw feeders across the country are getting involved in local Sustainable Selections programs. 

Before continuing, I want to answer an oft-asked question: why is it that animals can be fed things deemed “not fit” for humans? This can be an especially hot topic when debating raw feeding. Without going into too many specifics, the main reason is that animals — in this instance specifically canines — have a much shorter digestive tracts, and therefore much faster “food processing systems” than their human counterparts.

Several groups participate in local Sustainable Selections programs. Spot spoke with Virginia Dunn, who plays an integral role in the Portland Metro area cooperative. When asked how many local groups there were, she said she was only familiar with theirs (NW Working Dogs) in the Portland area, but that there are other groups in Oregon and Washington — in Eugene, and the Olympia and Seattle areas. The Portland co-op is a two-year pilot program begun in November 2009 with two participating Wal-Mart stores. Today there are three stores participating.

The program is relatively simple. The co-op provides barrels to participating stores where employees deposit meat items throughout the week when their sell-by dates are up. Dunn says they typically collect raw turkey, chicken, beef, pork and fish, and occasionally lamb and buffalo.

Co-op members collect the meat weekly, then gather in a designated driveway to divide the haul. Dunn says it’s a funny sight — a bunch of people sorting through barrels of raw meat in her driveway on Saturday mornings. Conjuring visions of Pike’s Place Market, Dunn says, “Someone calls for chicken, another for salmon; pretty soon packages start flying through the air.”


Often members’ dogs go along for the ride — or first prime pickings – and can be seen drooling in the back of pickup trucks. Whether Cane Corsos or Great Danes, Tibetan Mastiffs to Chiweenies, their attention is unanimously captured by what’s for dinner.

Considering the program a success so far, members are reaching out to more local stores about becoming involved. Just having passed the first quarter of the contract period, Dunn says people come and go, but that she makes sure enough are involved to handle the meat each week.

The group doesn’t have a storage facility, so participating members must be truly interested and committed. An initial fee for membership covers first quarter dues and helps offset the cost of the barrels. Dues continue to be payable quarterly, and members are expected to be available at pickup time each week.

The average weekly collection for the Portland group is 1,000-1,500 pounds; the Vancouver group collects another 600-800. That’s well over 2,000 pounds of product being diverted from local landfills. Once the weekly haul is divided, the barrels must be cleaned and sanitized, then returned to the stores for the next week’s collections. Participating members are truly a team, sharing in the work and reaping the rewards.

Currently, the Portland group has between 10 and 20 people on any given Saturday morning hanging out, sharing stories, offering raw feeding tips, and tossing meat around. Each person goes home with what they need from the haul, and their pets are eating well because of it. Of the many benefits of the program, Dunn says, “First and foremost, we’re feeding raw! Many people in our group have been able to take their dogs off kibble and move to a completely natural diet.” Dunn continues, “And then there is the cost savings. We have people in our group who are students, a couple are retraining after becoming unemployed. If it weren’t for this program, they could not afford to feed their dogs a diet of this high quality.” As for living green, Dunn says, “Not only are we helping our dogs live longer, healthier lives, but we’re making a positive impact on the environment by keeping tons of raw meat out of the landfill. How awesome is that?”

For more information, visit the Quest Recycling site on Landfill Diversion Innovations. To get involved in a Sustainable Selections program near you, or to help to start one, contact Ali at Sustainable Selections

For a closer look at specific pet food choices, divergent schools of thought, and expert opinions on the pros and cons of feeding raw, frozen, dry and homemade, stay with Spot — we’ll get to the meat of it in August.


Kennedy Morgan is a Portland-area dog mom, customer service manager for a small software company, and now freelance writer. Kennedy, her Dane, Vegas, and new addition, a Pomeranian, Leo, can be found playing with their many Dane friends (and their people) at weekly Portland Great Dane Community meetups. Contact her at Photo is Vegas (Apache Vegas Rose)