Since I started at Recology a few years ago, one of the most common questions I receive surrounds both the environmental and economic impact of recycling. It’s usually in some form of: “How could the environmental and financial costs of sorting, shipping and processing of recyclables be favorable to simply sending the material to the landfill?”
The answer to this question is based on the cost and environmental impact of recycling facility operations – sorting recyclables and shipping the material for processing so they can be reintroduced to the market. From a cost perspective, can these efforts and the resources used be advantageous to sending the material to the landfill? Yes, both financially and environmentally.
That said there are two important considerations that must be included in the discussion:
The first is evaluating the difference between producing new products from recycled versus virgin material. Recycling aluminum, for example, can reduce energy consumption by as much as 95%. Savings for other materials are lower, but still substantial: about 70% for plastics, 60% for steel, 40% for paper, and 30% for glass. (1) In all cases, the energy savings are significant and well worth the effort to recover them.
The second are externalities, which are the un-priced, outside benefits that recycling produces. These include decreased air pollution from mills and factories, less water contamination from landfills, and reduced resource consumption. All of which have a financial and environmental cost. The process for obtaining and processing virgin materials is not often associated with recycling. We all know that mining, drilling and logging are activities that are detrimental to the environment, but since we aren’t paying for them on our monthly garbage bill, these factors are oftentimes overlooked.
When we really delve into the economics of recycling, it’s easier to understand if we look at the big picture. The energy used to separate and process our recyclable material is offset by the amount of energy it would take to extract virgin materials and create new products. So, there is much more to consider than the cost we see on our garbage bills, and it also makes a lot of sense to think about our garbage as materials or commodities to be re-used in the future.
(1)” The truth about recycling“, The Economist, June 2007
The last few months proved to be significant for California’s environmentalists and waste & recycling industry alike. In addition to signing SB 270, the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1826 (Chesbro), requiring commercial businesses to begin recycling organics.
According to Assembly Bill 1826, organics include “food waste, green waste, landscape and pruning waste, nonhazardous wood waste, and food-soiled paper waste that is mixed in with food waste.” By spring 2016, restaurants, grocery stores, and other commercial food and yard waste producers generating at least 8 cubic yards of organics per week will be required to separate their organics and properly send the materials to an organics processing facility.
Most notably, the move towards large-scale organics recycling will reduce the amount of food scraps and yard waste headed to landfills, and increase materials headed for anaerobic digestion and composting facilities. The influx of organic materials to processing facilities will be converted to renewable energy through anaerobic digestion, or composted for use on local farms.
By signing AB 1826…Governor Brown ensured that all of California shares in the environmental, agricultural, and economic benefits of organics recycling with reduced local emissions of greenhouse gases, new jobs and valuable compost for our farms and vineyards – Mike Sangiacomo, President & CEO, Recology
Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro adds, “Landfilled food and other organic materials produce methane, a major contributor to climate change,” Chesbro said. “Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas created by the burning of fossil fuels.”
Rural areas, however, are exempt: “‘Rural jurisdiction’ means a jurisdiction that is located entirely within one or more rural counties, or a regional agency comprised of jurisdictions that are located within one or more rural counties…’Rural county’ means a county that has a total population of less than 70,000 persons.”
Commercial organics recycling is a step forward in terms of increasing the State’s diversion percentages and reducing landfill tonnages. The end goal, however, will always be to return resources and nutrients back to the environment where they originated. We think it will help accomplish all of these goals.
Recology San Mateo County (Recology) would like to congratulate this year’s BizSMART @ Work Award winners. Recology’s team thrives on working with the businesses and multi-family complexes to help them increase their diversion levels.
Recology works closely with customers by providing waste audits, cost savings analyses, internal recycling and compost containers, recycle buddy bags, posters, in addition to other outreach materials, and onsite trainings and presentations. With these tools, Recology’s Waste Zero Specialist can identify what technical assistance each customer needs to educate their staff and reduce waste going to the landfill.
Award categories include Recycle, Compost, and a combined Recycle and Compost. The winners for this year’s awards are as follows:
Diddams Party Store, San Carlos
Sand Cove Apartments, Foster City
300 Alpine Road LLC, West Bay Sanitary District
Bayshore Christian Ministries, East Palo Alto
Donato Enoteca, Redwood City
Milagros, Redwood City
Menlo Circus Club, Atherton
Oak Grove HOA/Manor, Menlo Park
Papillon Preschool, San Mateo
Promontory Point, Foster City
Recycling and Composting Category:
Abbott Vascular, Menlo Park
Back Yard Coffee Company, Redwood City
Catered Too, East Palo Alto
Embarcadero Capital Partners LLC, Belmont
Hassett Hardware, San Mateo
Impossible Foods, Inc., Redwood City
Kingston Café, San Mateo
The Plant Cafe, Burlingame
Rocket Fuel, Redwood City
Sweet Production, San Carlos
Villa Lucia’s Pizza, San Mateo County
The public also had a chance to select the 2014 Rethinker’s Choice Award by voting for their favorite nominees selected from the Recycle and Compost category winners through the RethinkWaste website. The winner of the 2014 Rethinkers’ Choice Award will be announced at the luncheon.
The nominees for the 2014 Rethinker’s Choice Award are:
Abbott Vascular, Redwood City
Back Yard Coffee Company, Redwood City
Embarcadero Capital Partners LLC, Belmont
Kingston Café, San Mateo
Sweet Production, San Carlos
Recology Western Oregon Partners with Local Veteran to Restore and Donate Thousands of Bicycles in Yamhill County
Three years ago, Dean Williams, a retired Vietnam Veteran from Amity, OR, noticed a few perfectly good bikes on a pile of scrap metal at a nearby waste facility. At the time, his granddaughter’s bike was recently stolen, so he went in to ask about purchasing one.
From that day on, Dean has been dedicated to refurbishing and donating bikes to local schools, probation departments, the Yamhill County Action Partnership (YCAP), police departments, church groups, and other local community organizations. Many of the donated bikes are the primary mode of transportation for recipients, members of the community who do not have access to a vehicle use the bikes to commute to work or school.
By early 2014, Dean’s project had become so successful, he’d run into a problem: his home’s driveway was full of salvaged parts, and he needed more tools and resources to continue his project.
Recology Western Oregon (RWO) decided to help. Dean’s project embraces RWO’s mission to achieve “Waste Zero” by finding a new life for previously discarded materials. It also provides a sustainable form of transportation for local children and families in need.
To help Dean’s project grow, RWO established a new Bike Shop at the RWO Valley Recovery Zone in McMinnville, OR. Dean has been provided with tools, storage space, and access to discarded bike parts at the facility. Even the shop’s benches and tables carry a message of sustainability – Dean salvaged lumber from RWO wood piles to build the work benches.
The shop is also serves as an education center where members of the community can learn basic bike maintenance and repair. Dean and RWO hope to educate the public on the importance of reuse and recycle, ensuring fewer resources end up in the scrap pile.
Dean has repaired and donated over 1,600 bikes as of May 2014, and with the help of RWO, his mission continues to expand. A box of bikes is currently being prepared for shipment to Africa, and Dean also plans to expand his collection efforts to other Recology operations along the Oregon Coast and Washington State.
Dean’s story began as one person’s passion to turn trash into treasure; today, it’s become a model reuse and recycle program. If you’d like more information or would like to get involved in the project, please stop by the “Bike Shop” at RWO’s Valley Recovery Zone, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In honor of International Compost Awareness Week (May 5 – 11), an initiative created by the US Composting Council, we’re sharing our thoughts on this years focus: “Compost: The Solution to Sustainable Soil and Water.”
The traditional reasons to participate in a curbside compost program are to keep materials out of landfills and to return nutrients, in the form of compost, to local farms and vineyards. Those nutrients give farmers a viable alternative to using synthetic fertilizers and help farmers grow healthy food that comes back to the city to support our good health.
But there is a third great reason to compost: It helps California, our home state, save water – tremendous amounts of water.
Compost is 50 percent humus by weight. Humus is organic matter that helps soil retain moisture. Humus is a form of carbon; it both attracts and holds water. When we apply compost to an orchard, farm, or vineyard, we increase the amount of humus in the farm’s soil, and thereby increase the capacity of the soil to withstand drought conditions.
Farmers like to apply compost because doing so helps their soil and their crops get the full benefit of any rain or irrigation. This is particularly important for orchards, which require a lot of irrigation.
Here is a key statistic: If we increase organic matter by one percent on one acre of land by adding compost and by farming environmentally, we can save 16,500 gallons of water per year. Imagine how much water we could save if every city in California participated in a compost collection programs, sending a lot more compost to local farms.
Knowing that composting is a highly effective way to help California save water, many Recology employee-owners have an increased motive to participate in Recology’s green-bin programs. We are doing a good job of composting scraps and plant cuttings in many areas like San Francisco, but we can do much better. What can an individual do on a daily basis to help? Place all food scraps and plant cuttings in the green bin for curbside collection. Also, we can place all food-soiled paper, things like used paper napkins and towels, in the green bin (soiled paper has short fibers – microorganisms in compost like short paper fibers). Soiled paper in a kitchen compost pail or curbside compost bin will also absorb moisture, which will help control odor.
Recology set the trend when we started an urban compost collection program in San Francisco in 1996 to reduce landfill disposal and turn food scraps into compost. Now we can help our state save great amounts of water by extending our good green habit and composting all of our scraps, plant cuttings, and soiled paper.
Unwanted or worn out clothes and other textiles, such as fabrics woven from thread or yarn, can be recycled through Recology’s RecycleMyJunk program. SF Residents can call (415) 330-1300 to schedule a pickup or email us through the “contact us” form on our website, RecycleMyJunk.com.
Our textile recycling program also accepts backpacks, purses, belts, and shoes. Recology will take all textiles, even if torn or ripped, as long as they are dry. When placing textiles by the curb for your scheduled pickup, please bundle them with string or place them in a box or bag clearly labeled “Textiles.”
RecycleMyJunk is an appointment-based program and part of the collection services we provide in San Francisco under City oversight. To view program rules go to RecycleMyJunk.com. Residential customers can now include boxes and bundles of textiles without them counting toward the per-collection item limit. Residential customers can also request “Textile Only” collections at no additional charge.
Recology donates textiles collected through the RecycleMyJunk program to St. Vincent de Paul Society, who sorts and re-purposes the materials.
Recology compost programs are designed to return nutrients back to our soils, and essentially back to our dining tables. Composting turns food scraps and yard trimmings into useful materials; the best and highest use of natural resources.
- Compost is a viable alternative to chemical fertilizers because it adds many nutrients to soil and doesn’t pollute groundwater, wells, or waterways.
- Composting keeps organic waste out of landfills, which supports more efficient land use and reduces methane gas emissions, a greenhouse gas.
- Compost sequesters carbon deep in the soil, which helps maintain essential nutrients in soil. This is especially useful when compost is used to grow cover crops, like mustard or beans.
- Compost promotes healthy microbial activity in soil, which makes micronutrients available to plant roots and discourages soil diseases.
- Compost improves soil structure, thereby protecting topsoil from erosion.
- Soils fed with compost retain far more rainwater, conserving our water resources.
- Compost helps grow plants and food crops that are rich with nutrients needed to sustain good health.
- Composting is easy and fulfilling!
- Compost collection programs return nutrients to local farms and support green jobs.
- Farms that utilize compost achieve higher yields than conventional farming that uses nitrogen fertilizers. This means farms produce more organic fruits and vegetables to support your good health.
- Composting reverses the course of waste from decay to new growth, turning coffee grounds, cantaloupe skins, and chicken bones into sweet carrots, juicy tomatoes, and fine wines.
- Composting helps our cities get closer to achieving zero waste.
- Composting helps California save tremendous amounts of water.
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.”