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.
Yesterday, an independent panel consisting of former Mayors, architects and reps from the World Bank, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Siemens recognized ten cities around the world for their leadership in urban sustainability practices. San Francisco was recognized for it’s work in ”waste management”. I think they actually meant resource recovery, but, it’s just semantics. Right?
In 2009 we started talking about WASTE ZERO. It’s our rallying cry to make the best and highest use of all resources that we can. The real natural resource challenges we’re facing around the world, and in California, have everything to do with it. Recology is driven to find a social, environmentally-sound and economical solution to the vast amount of waste that we create in industrialized economies. I was reminded that we have a lot in this country while having a conversation with one of the Haitian artists working at the San Francisco transfer station. He expressed surprise at just how much gets thrown “away”. Good things, repairable things. Reusable things. Recyclable and compostable things.
In San Francisco, the call to make Zero Waste a reality is starting to be heard. And with this award comes some recognition of the hard work being done in the city by regular people who have started to change their habits. They pause and consider what can be recycled and composted as they stand over the three containers in their kitchens. They search through Whatbin.com for answers to what goes where. And while there is still a ways to go before we reach zero waste, we’re at least on our way. And that’s exactly what sustainability is about.
Congratulations to everyone in San Francisco!
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.”
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.
A National Record
This morning San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee Lee announced that the city of San Francisco reached an 80% landfill waste diversion rate. The city holds the national recycling and compost rate record in North America. And that is no small feat. The city of St. Louis’ recycling rate increased fivefold this year, and that city now diverts just 10%.
We are especially proud. San Francisco’s programs include source reduction, reuse, and recycling and composting programs, which set the city apart from other major North American cities. These programs helped San Francisco receive a perfect score for resource recovery and recycling in the 2011 Siemens Green City Index.
In city’s press release says:
“Recycling and composting is not only good for our environment, it is also good for our economy,” said Mayor Lee. ”Recycling alone creates 10 times more jobs than simply sending refuse to the landfill, and I applaud Recology, the Department of Environment and San Franciscans for reaching this record milestone of 80 percent diversion.”
On the road to Zero Waste
The work is not easy or simple. While landfill disposal has decreased substantially, San Francisco residents, visitors and businesses still send 444 thousand tons of material to landfill each year.
Yet San Francisco is determined to achieve zero waste, not only an environmental, but also an economic goal.
David Chiu, a City Supervisor also supported our work and urged San Franciscans to do their part. He said, “I thank Recology and the Department of Environment staff who are reaching out and educating our residents and businesses to make sure they continue to recycle and compost our way to zero waste.” This weekend, all of the events taking place in the city include forward-thinking plans for recycling and composting.
You can read more of the press release here: http://www.sfmayor.org/index.aspx?page=846.
Recology in San Carlos picks up those giant items, like stoves, couches, and washing machines, that just don’t fit in your garbage can.
Twice a year, Recology provides single family residents of the city with a chance to get rid of those items free of charge.
What can we take?
- Boxes, bundles or bags that are up to 3ft. x 3ft. x 6ft.
- One large appliance, like a clothes dryer
- One bulky item like a mattress and box spring
- One piece of furniture like a desk
- One e-waste item like a TV or microwave
The drivers can’t pick up loose items though, and you’ll need to schedule the pick up in advance.
Learn more about safe and responsible disposal of large items by visiting Recology San Carlo’s bulky item pickup service web page.
Schedule an appointment here.
A big THANK YOU to all our Recology San Mateo County volunteers who cleaned up our Bay front and local creeks!
We were glad to spend some quality time with our friends and neighbors on last Saturday during the annual Fall Cleanup and California Coastal Cleanup Day.
This year we focused on removing debris from Redwood Creek, and parts of Brewster Avenue, Marshall Street, the Union Cemetery, Whipple Avenue, Winslow Street, Woodside Road, and other areas.
You can read more about the event here.
We also had a chance to close the loop by making compost available to the communities that put their food scraps and yard trimmings to good use by recycling them!
In today’s New York Times article, Flavor Is Price of Scarlet Hue of Tomatoes, the author asks geneticists the universal question: “Why are tomatoes usually so tasteless?”
Unlike the modern day genetically modified tomato that is engineered to turn red before it is ripe, true innovation occurs over a long period of time. Take for example, San Francisco’s recycling programs. Over 90 years of constant improvement in the services to the City & County of San Francisco has lead to the city’s status as the greenest city in the nation.
In celebration of Earth Day and our commitment to the environment, we created a documentary entitled, “Recycling in America’s Greenest City”.
If you missed viewing the documentary on Sunday, April 22 (Earth Day), you may now view it from the comfort of your home by visiting our website, Recology.com.
One way that we’ve done this is to show people where their garbage goes, and what’s in it. We often take people on tours of our transfer stations, and show them what they think goes “away” after they leave their garbage on the curb. Most companies would never show the public what the folks at the Recology transfer station in San Francisco call “the Pit”.
The Pit temporarily holds what goes into the garbage can before it’s transfered to a landfill. Most of it is recyclable or compostable. When we look at the pit, we feel the same sense of sadness that others feel when they’re exposed to it for the first time. There’s a lot of wasted material in there.
We don’t hide the Pit for a reason. What folks see in there is an important part of their education about recycling, composting and landfills. And we show it to them for another reason too: to show them what they’re not seeing when they look at the Pit. Fifteen to twenty years ago, the Pit saw about 3,000 tons of waste per day. Today, the number is 1,350. We’ve been able to do this through our partnership with every resident of San Francisco and the Department of the Environment, and the three-bin system that we created, which allows everyone to sort out their compostable and recyclable material from their garbage.
We participate in coastal and city-wide clean up days to make sure what can be recycled is recycled during those events, and try to inspire people to see garbage differently through our Artist in Residence program in San Francisco and GLEAN in Portland.
Of course, there will always be garbage as long as products are made to be disposable after a single use, and as long as that is true, we will need landfills. But, we hope that the landfills of the future are “inert”–meaning no recyclable and no compostable materials go there.
Coming up with new ways to prevent usable resources from being wasted is part of the joy in our jobs. For example, one of the employees at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in San Francisco came up with the idea to recover BART tickets that still had some value and to use the proceeds to support Friends of the Urban Forest and the San Francisco Food Bank.
We love that we get a chance to make a real, positive impact on the lives of people in the cities and towns where we work, and on resource conservation and the climate. It’s a tough and dirty job, but we are glad to do it.
Learn how to compost at free workshop
Join other Cupertino residents on May 5th to learn how to compost in your backyard! A free backyard composting workshop will help you get started.
DATE: May 5 from 10AM to noon
LOCATION: Cupertino Community Hall, 10300 Torre Ave.
Cupertino residents attending the workshop will receive a free home composting bin two weeks after attending class.
Limit is one compost bin per household.
To register, call Recology at 408.725.4020.
For information on future compost classes, visit www.reducewaste.org/classes.