An article in the December issue of MSW Management titled Rethinking Sustainable Organics included a quote from Henry Wallace, secretary of agriculture to President Franklin Roosevelt. The quote is:
“[n]ature treats the earth unkindly. Man treats her harshly. He over plows the cropland, overgrazes the pastureland, and overcuts the timberland. He destroys millions of acres completely. He pours fertility year after year into the cities, which in turn pour what they do not use down the sewers into the rivers and the ocean… The public is waking up, and just in time. In another 30 years it might have been too late.”
United States Department of Agriculture’s Soils and Men: Yearbook of Agriculture, 1936
In 1936, we already knew that through unsustainable management of cut trees, shrubs, and spoiled or leftover food we were depleting fertile soil of carbon and other nutrients. These materials can be managed to provide a soil amendment that returns minerals and carbon to the ground so that a piece of land will remain fertile despite years of cultivation that would otherwise depleted it. Bob Shaffer, an agronomist, says that only 10% of the planet has land that is suitable to raise crops and fortunately, over time, compost made from recycled food scraps has been embraced by farmers.
Recology has been working for 15 years with the City of San Francisco to make food scraps recycling possible. Now, 60% of what we at Recology touch in San Francisco stays out of landfills. One way we do this is through advanced composting processes, technology and the knowledge we’ve gained over 15 years. Greg Pryor, manager of Jepson Prairie Organics has mastered the process through testing all kinds of technologies and techniques at the composting facility, which opened in 1996. Jepson Prairie Organics is located among agricultural lands in Northern California, and has created 1,100,000 tons of compost since it opened. The composting processes that Recology has developed have resulted in VOC emissions that are far below state minimum requirements, prevent the creation of methane gas, and create a specially-blended compost and compost teas that are useful to biodynamic farmers.
Closing the loop on sustainable farming is possible when communities that consider sustainability issues as they plan their garbage programs–or resource recovery programs in the case of San Francisco–are willing to partner with companies like Recology in this great experiment of human social and ecological survival. We are glad that more and more cities are catching on.