Waste district rolls out pilot programs to recycle food scraps and ag plastic.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The landfill is getting lonelier and lonelier. With the recycling of glass, plastic, metals, paper, concrete and yard waste, local cities have already exceeded the state-mandated 50 percent waste diversion rate. Now they’re aiming for 75 percent.
If Monterey Regional and Salinas Valley waste authorities make current pilot programs permanent, residents and businesses may soon recycle food waste and agricultural plastic along with everything else.
In early October, Monterey Regional Waste Management District began a trial of industrial composting with food scraps from Whole Foods in Monterey, adding Asilomar Conference Center waste in mid-December.
With help from “brown” compost such as straw, the district’s windrows build heat up to 150 degrees, breaking down a range of cooked and uncooked materials including fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, bones, coffee grounds, tea bags and paper food packaging.
“IT CAN GET YUCKY – SMELLY AND STINKY AND MUSHY AND ALL OF THAT.”
MRWMD staff will pay particular attention to the breakdown of bio-plastics – corn – and sugar-based utensils and serving ware that some local businesses are using as an alternative to petroleum-based packaging. Last spring the district’s board adopted a draft ordinance banning take-out Styrofoam containers, and several cities have already signed on.
“We do plan on expanding this program, budget permitting,” MRWMD spokesman Jeff Lindenthal says. “We have the land here. We have the permits.”
This winter the district will solicit bids for commercial composting of the area’s commercial food waste, Lindenthal adds. Curbside food scrap recycling could be a later phase, perhaps in partnership with neighboring waste authorities.
The district already recycles commercial and residential yard waste, which Sun Land Garden Products composts at the landfill in Marina. Food scraps, however, present unique challenges.
“It can get yucky – smelly and stinky and mushy and all of that,” Lindenthal says. “Composting is a highly regulated process, so we need to be sure it’s done correctly.”
It’s also important to keep out inorganic materials like twist ties, rubber bands, and petro-plastic.
Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority is doing a similar test of food-waste composting, according to SVSWA Diversion Manager Susan Warner. BFI Waste Services collects food scraps from nearly two dozen restaurants in Oldtown Salinas, taking them to Central Coast Composting in Gonzalez. Across the street at Johnson Canyon landfill, NorCal Waste Systems Inc. composts and sells the authority’s yard waste.
If the pilot is successful, regular commercial – and possibly residential – food scrap recycling may follow, Warner says, with approval from the state waste board and oversight from the county health department.
“There is some level of contamination, partly because this is a new project and folks aren’t completely sure what can and can’t go in those containers,” Warner adds.
Other questions remain, including whether food scrap composting is profitable.
For Tom Ford, a partner in Central Coast Composting, that’s the idea. “So far so good,” he says of the pilot, which began in October. “That’s the good stuff, when you get the food waste. It really makes a high-quality product.”
Sun Land Garden Products CEO Juan Batista says if food waste compost is marketable, he may be interested in the MRWMD bid. “At the end of the day, we have to make money,” he says.
A few hours north, commercial and residential food scrap recycling is already a reality. The city of San Francisco and almost all of Alameda County – representing more than 300,000 households – offer curbside food scrap bins, according to Robin Plutchok of the Alameda County Waste Management Authority.
Meanwhile, MRWMD is piloting a program to recycle agricultural plastic including fumigation film, mulch film and drip tape – material normally landfilled at a rate of about 3,000 tons per year.
“These plastics are bulky and spongy, and they really take up space,” Lindenthal says.
The pilot is a partnership with America Go Green, a collection and recycling firm based in Terra Bella, Calif., he says. (Max Lee, principal of America Go Green, did not return calls.)
Warner says SVSWA is considering a similar proposal from America Go Green. “It’s certainly something that we want to develop a program for in the future,” she says. “[Ag plastic] disposition should not be the landfill. It has a higher and better use.”