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.
· We set a record-breaking Earth Hour at 8:30PM PST. (Asia took the lead.)
· Despite the rain, around 3,000 San Franciscans came out with their buckets, bags, carts and coolers to pick up free compost at the Great Compost Giveaway.
Hayes Valley Farm was happy to host the Great Compost Giveaway, since it shares Recology’s values of zero-waste and community involvement. The farm employs permaculture–a whole systems design approach to growing food and restoring natural ecologies–to minimize inputs and upcycle local waste on its 2.2 acre site in the heart of San Francisco. The photos are from the Giveaway at Hayes Valley Farm.
Now, get ready!
Recology San Mateo County and the City of San Carlos will host the next Great Compost Giveaway event on Earth Day this month.
There are many ways to create renewable energy, from the ocean, to the wind, to the sun. On the other hand, there are very few ways to make topsoil, and it takes millions of years to do it at Mother Nature’s pace.
That’s why the trend that began in Florida to overturn the ban on organics from landfills is especially troubling. You may have heard of it. Although it is well known that organic materials create methane gas as they decompose in landfills, and that methane gas is a potent greenhouse gas that has the ability to trap heat in the atmosphere 21 times more effectively than carbon dioxide, landfill companies are opting to put them back in landfills under the misnomer of creating renewable energy.
Jodie Humphries wrote an article titled “The impact of domestic food waste on climate change” which was published in Next Generation Food. In the article, she writes:
The amount of food waste generated in the US is huge. It is the third largest waste stream after paper and yard waste. In 2008, about 12.7 percent of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in America was food scraps. Less than three percent of that 32 million tonnes was recovered and recycled. The rest – 31 million tonnes – was thrown away into landfills or incinerators, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Landfill gas emissions are supposed to be curbed, per an EPA program, through gas collection systems. Although most of the landfills in the U.S. do not have a gas collection system–meaning that methane gas is freely being emitted into the atmosphere, many landfill companies continue operating as before. In some cases, they are attempting to justify the installation of landfill gas management systems by mandating that states like Florida force organic materials into landfills. The consequence is that not only will more methane emissions be released into the atmosphere, but the soil health and production capacity of the surrounding farm land will decline over time. Landfill gas collection systems are the least environmentally-preferred option for managing organic material that is thrown away. It is always better to reduce the amount of food wasted, donate what is excess, or to recycle it into compost before burying its nutrient potential in a landfill.
Why compost before landfilling? Everything that we eat that doesn’t come from the ocean depends on topsoil to grow. As topsoil is used to grow food, it gets depleted of nutrients that we need to lead healthy lives. It is replenished with nutrients by adding compost and hummus to it.
Compost is a moist soil amendment with a sweet, earthy, tabacco-like smell. This resource reduces the amount of water needed to harvest crops, it represses weeds and improves the health of the soil and the plants that grow in it. Think of it a the multivitamin for the ground. Forcing the resource into landfills is a short-sighted approach to energy production. There is nothing “renewable” about this type of energy, because forcing organic material into a landfill diminishes the total organics that can be harvested over time. That makes landfill gas a non-renewable resource. And the recent push to put more organics back into landfills through the reversal of the organics ban in Florida in the name of creating “renewable” energy has put things into a new perspective.
If the world system collapsed tomorrow so that there was no refrigeration, no mechanically-powered transportation and no electricity, would you prefer to have soil to grow your food, or would you prefer to have a pipeline? There are many ways to generate energy, but none of them can grow your food.
The planet needs places like Jepson Prairie Organics in Vacaville, California because that facility made it possible to provide the Northern California region with state of the art resource recovery systems that closely approximate what Mother Nature does at a reasonable cost. The City of Vacaville’s leadership in recycling, their community support and innovation has made it possible for food scraps composting and organics recycling to evolve into a resource for the agricultural community while creating landfill diversion, and preventing the creation of greenhouse gases.
The idea of WASTE ZERO is to make the best and highest use of all resources. Compost is one way to keep the planet turning.
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.