Guest blogger, Chris Choate, VP of Sustainability at Recology, leads us through the dynamic world of creating biofuels.
Recology is driven to find the social, environmental, and economical solution to power our fleet of vehicles with fuel produced from the residual resources (waste material) from your trash. We’ve spent a lot of time evaluating and researching ways to generate and utilize bio-methane from our landfills and anaerobic digesters to power our trucks.
Our solution has proved to be a good one thus far. We’ve found a way to integrate biofuels into our fleet fuel sources by transitioning to alternative fuel equipment and utilizing compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) and B20 biodiesel.
Recology continues to partner with the City of San Francisco in an effort to lead the nation in diverting material from landfills to achieve the highest use of all materials. Over 80% of the material diverted is collected through an integrated system of reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting. Even with all of these collection processes, over half of the current material going to the landfill is degradable and a good source of biomass material.
Recology is fortunate to have these alternative fuels accessible to us through our collection, recycling, and compost facilities. We not only rely on our recycling efforts to divert and reuse materials, but we rely on the nature of biology to also help our goals of zero waste.
SF Environment created the City’s Zero Waste Plan from our overarching environmental principles that include:
- Reusing materials at a level that is their next best and highest use
- Avoiding high-temperature conversion (incineration)
- Achieving the highest carbon footprint reduction possible
- Employing local and biological processes that mimic nature
Currently, biological processes are used, managed, and exploited to stabilize thousands of tons of organic material a year through our compost programs. It is consistent with Recology’s sustainability goals, and the City’s overarching principles, to further utilize natural processes to produce biodiesel from the City’s waste stream.
We’ve heard it before.
I don’t use the compost bin because it’s gross.
Using the green bin is just going to attract mice and flies. That’s why I don’t compost.
I don’t need to compost because I heard they’ll sort it later.
The reactions to the green composting bin when it’s first introduced to a community, or when someone moves into a community that’s composted for some time, are pretty predictable. The newcomers seem to go through a learning curve that begins with disgust and sometimes outrage, to understanding and adaptation, to a sense of purpose and empowerment.
It all takes a little bit of education. First, most people have to get their head around the basic concepts. What is organic? What can’t I put in the bin? Where does it go? How does my chicken bone become compost?
Eventually, they start to see how separating food scraps and yard trimmings from the garbage protects the air, water and soil. And then they start to think about what zero waste means.
I find myself caring in ways I’ve never cared before.
One example of a change of heart is Shideh Etaat’s “I Refused to Compost“. In her article, she writes “the other day when I tucked my banana peel into my bag because there was no compost bin to be found on the street. It felt like a small triumph when I dumped it in my own not-too-gross green bin when I got home”.
You can read more about Shideh’s experience at http://www.thebolditalic.com/shidehe/stories/2872-i-refused-to-compost.
Congratulations Big Apple on Going Green!
Dozens of cities and hundreds of universities are following San Francisco’s lead and instituting urban compost collection programs. Most of these programs are located where one might expect to find them: Seattle, Portland, Maine, and University of California campuses. But not everyone expected New York City to come to the party. On June 16 Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to expand and eventually require food scrap compost collection at locations across the city.
In discussing the plan, officials also signaled interest in the zero waste movement. “You want to get on a trajectory where you’re not sending anything to landfills,” Caswell F. Holloway IV, a deputy mayor, told The New York Times.
San Francisco aims to achieve zero waste by 2020, a goal set by the Board of Supervisors. The green bin program is a major contributor to San Francisco’s landfill diversion rate of 80 percent, the highest in the country.
Replicating the San Francisco program is just common sense. Food scraps collected from San Francisco are turned into nutrient-rich compost that is applied to local farms. Most of them are vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties. Compost made from food scraps collected in New York City could be applied to farms in upstate New York, farms that grow fruits and vegetables sold at the 19 farmers’ markets in the city.
There are many wonderful things about these programs. They keep things out of landfills and feed topsoil on local farms, which helps farmers grow healthier food. Urbanites like to shop at farmer’s markets and increasingly are hearing about the connection between tossing coffee grounds and vegetable peelings in their kitchen compost pails and the heirloom tomatoes and fresh carrots they buy on Saturday mornings.
Bloomberg’s announcement generated a lot of New York media coverage and press calls to San Francisco seeking reaction and insights. Reporters looking for opposing views among New Yorkers were mostly disappointed and within two days said “people like it.”
The Times reported that test compost collection programs in New York have shown an “unexpectedly high level of participation.” More than one headline read like this one: “Take it from a composting veteran, it is easier than you think.”
That perspective will feel correct to most people who live and work in San Francisco, experienced composters that we are. Some here are compost holdouts and need to get with the program, but in total we are getting our city a little closer to zero waste everyday. And in that context it was nice, at least for a few days, to read headlines like “New York City amps up food recycling, while San Francisco shows the way.”
Go Zero Waste with Recology for Earth Day!
As part of our continued work to move the communities we serve closer to sending nothing to the landfill, Recology would like to invite people around the world to join us in going zero waste for Earth Day on Monday, April 22nd.
What does zero waste on Earth Day mean?
On Earth Day, many Recology staff will try to not sending anything to the landfill for one day – meaning only using and discarding items that are recyclable or compostable. Take your lunch in reusable containers instead of single use packaging, or only buy lunch in containers that are compostable and recyclable.
Document your experience.
As part of going Zero Waste for Earth Day, we’d like to hear about your experience in trying to send nothing to landfill for a day. Document your day with photos, videos, a blog post, or any other way you’d like! After Earth Day, we’ll compile all of the thoughts and media we received into a blog post, to be posted at blog.recology.com.
Some ideas for what to document:
- What was difficult about going for zero waste?
- What did you find yourself having to avoid that you normally would have taken or bought?
- Did trying to go zero waste for a day change how you think about purchases, waste, or recycling?
Any and all thoughts and ideas are welcome – we’re looking forward to hearing from you!
The Great Compost Giveaway
5 Gallons Free
Saturday, April 6, 2013
8am – Noon
Bring Your Own Bucket!
THANKS FOR MAKING SAN FRANCISCO A LITTLE GREENER.
San Francisco is now 80 percent of the way to Zero Waste thanks to the recycling and composting you do every day.
In appreciation of your efforts, Recology is giving away 5 to 10 gallons of a gourmet planting mix made from food scraps and plant trimmings composted by San Franciscans.
Join us at one of the following locations to pick up your free compost!
— Amphitheater Parking Lot
John F. Shelley Dr. at Mansell St.
850 Great Highway between Lincoln Way and Fulton St.
900 7th Street at Berry St. (enter on Berry St.)
To register, visit: recology.eventbrite.com.
THIS IS A BRING YOUR OWN BUCKET EVENT!
The Great Compost Giveaway is an annual event hosted by Recology, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco Department of the Environment all working towards Zero Waste by 2020.
Guest Blogger Robert Reed is the public relations manager for the Recology operating companies in San Francisco. Robert lives in San Francisco with his daughter August and their Boston Terrier Peanut, a.k.a. Cacahuète. This article appeared in Waste & Recycling News as a Guest View on March 4, 2013.
It is just as easy to put your coffee grounds in a compost collection bin, if your city permits, as it is to throw them in the trash. This simple act benefits the environment in multiple ways, is literally changing our industry, and, most importantly, supports the good health of you and your family members.
I know a bit about nutrition, but I cannot name one food that offers 10 health benefits. Yet I can easily list 10 benefits achieved through composting. Here are just a few: Compost returns nutrients and carbon to the soil, gives farmers a viable alternative to using liquid (or chemical) fertilizers, retains rainwater allowing farms to reduce irrigation and energy usage, and softens soil so plant’ roots can travel further and reach more nutrients.
Compost, particularly compost made from food scraps, is rich in nutrients because it is made from a diverse feedstock. In San Francisco’s urban compost collection program that feedstock includes leftover takeout from Chinese restaurants, pasta from North Beach, and, yes, coffee grounds from the many coffee shops across the city.
Compost made from food scraps stimulates microbial activity, which brings new life to soil. To help people better understand why that is important we publish an ad showing an apple core falling into a compost collection (green) bin. The headline on the ad says “Feed the soil. It feeds us.”
Recology, San Francisco’s homegrown recycling company, started collecting food scraps for composting in 1996. The city instructed us to roll the program out citywide in 2001. Customer participation was voluntary. In 2009 the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring “all properties” to participate, and today Recology collects 600 tons of food scraps and plants a day for composting.
Many cities and hundreds of universities have added food scrap compost collection programs, and the movement, for the reasons stated above and others, is gaining great momentum. The Washington Post told the story within the story on Feb. 3rd in their report titled “Composting efforts gain traction across the United States.”
Writer Juliet Eilperlin reported:
Environmentally minded city leaders have adopted “zero-waste” pledges, noting that traditional trash disposal not only wastes material that can enrich soil but accelerates climate change. Organic matter decomposing in landfills accounts for 16.2 percent of the nation’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts are all phasing in bans on putting commercial food waste in landfills.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and really get after it. The EPA reports that Americans generate approximately 35 million tons of food scraps annually and of that total only 3 percent makes it back to the farm. The vast majority goes to landfills or incinerators.
Eilperlin insightfully noted these points: Major trash industry operators have sometimes fought government requirements to divert waste because they operate landfills. Many communities have contracts with waste incineration sites, making it harder to develop organic recycling sites. And the nation’s trash disposal system lacks the ability to process food waste on a large scale.
We need to permit more compost facilities and we need to utilize modern technology at those facilities. When we do that, more cities will be able to establish curbside compost collection programs and we will continue turning a negative (landfill emissions) into a positive (returning nutrients and carbon to local farms.)
Are people across the country really going to do this? On Feb. 13th, in his final state-of-the-city address, Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, announced “This spring we’ll launch a pilot program to collect curbside organic waste from single family homes in Staten Island for composting. If it succeeds, we’ll develop a plan to take it citywide.”
This represents a major shift.
Some of the best minds in American agriculture sounded a call, in a book published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking large cities to establish food scrap compost collection programs to send nutrients back to farms. When was the book published? 1938.
It has taken 75 years, but cities are responding, and people like it. We are becoming keenly aware of our environmental challenges. Composting at the curb gives us a way to participate in a program every day that makes a positive difference.
Waste engineers report that typically between 40% and 60% of the material cities send to landfill could instead be composted.
“Trashed,” a new film hosted by Jeremy Irons, visits landfills around the world, discusses nano ash that escapes from incinerators, and highlights San Francisco’s compost collection program.
In December “Trashed” received a lot of attention from the New York media, and Irons was asked “What can we do?” His response: “Find out where your garbage goes.”
That’s what the French call “une bonne idée” (a good idea.) Here’s another one: If you are not already doing it, start today. Compost.
Last week, Time Magazine published an article that asked “What If the World’s Soil Runs Out?” The article highlighted the growing shortage of topsoil around the world due to unsustainable agricultural practices.
Topsoil is a living thing—it is the top 2 to 8 inches of soil where most of the microorganisms live and where plants put the majority of their roots. These microorganisms transform and recycle the topsoil material that they eat. We need them to make soil usable and livable for other organisms higher up on the food chain. They also are the tiny architects that structure soil so that it can retain moisture.
The article suggests that we have only about 60 years-worth of topsoil left. The reason is that most agricultural practices, even the ones practiced in European countries, strip the soil of carbon and nutrients. Soil is primarily eroded in three ways:
1. We take more carbon than we put back. Some fields are burnt after a harvest to clear them. Others are stripped to feed animals. In both cases, carbon is moved out of the growing cycle.
2. We misuse fertilizers. They provide nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and because plants will grow when these nutrients are available, we think that is all they need.
3. We also over-work the land through over-ploughing and over-grazing.
Through composting yard debris and food scraps, we add carbon and other key nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, back to the soil. Our efforts to return valuable nutrients and carbon to the soil are among the best examples of how to address the world’s soil nutrient shortage. You can learn more about the good things compost does for farmers, the environment and consumers in the WASTE ZERO section of Recology.com.
Visual journalist Bill Russell created a sketchbook with drawings and stories of the employees at Recology San Francisco, the WASTE ZERO facilities where we strive to recycle, reduce and re-use everything. During his time as an Artist in Residence, he captured the personalities and values that drive the people in that company to raise the standards of our industry.
Fortunately, we are not alone. In an Op-Ed this week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee reminded us of the city’s sustainability initiatives, including the Green Building Ordinance which aims to reduce water and energy use and divert material from landfills. In collaboration with the city, Recology has made curbside recycling of food scraps normal in the U.S. We have also made sure that the resources we recover, like used paint, make it to the places that need them the most.
This Thursday, please join the employees of Recology in giving thanks for the planet we share by making sure your food scraps make it to a compost bin and your recyclables make it to the recycling bin.
You can purchase Bill Russell’s sketchbook here: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1883097.
Urban farming and gardening is the talk of the town in San Francisco.
The office of the City Administrator will be hosting three town hall meetings to hear from you about the Urban Agriculture Ordinance. Here’s your chance to be part of the conversation!
DATES & TIMES
· The Ortega Branch Library Program Room (3223 Ortega Street) November 27 @ 6:00pm-8:00pm
· The SE Community Facility Alex Pitcher Room (1800 Oakdale Ave) November 29 @ 6:00pm-8:00pm
· The Veterans War Memorial Building (401 Van Ness Ave) December 8 @ 1:00pm-3:00pm
Questions? Contact the Urban Agriculture Fellow at the Office of the City Administrator: 415.554.4928