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.
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.”
Recology San Francisco, Art at the Dump Artist in Residence Exhibitions: Work by Benjamin Cowden, Ian Treasure and Hannah Quinn
The Artist in Residence Program at Recology San Francisco will host an exhibition and reception for current artists-in-residence Benjamin Cowden, Ian Treasure, and student artist Hannah Quinn on Friday, May 17, from 5-9pm and Saturday, May 18, from 1-3pm. Additional viewing hours will be held on Tuesday, May 21, from 5-7pm. Please note the new Saturday hours and additional Tuesday viewing time. Music will be provided Friday night by dj Joshua Pieper and on Saturday The Insufferables will perform. This exhibition will be the culmination of four months of work by the artists who have scavenged materials from the dump to make art and promote recycling and reuse.
Benjamin Cowden: Lunar Cassowaries
The cassowary, a large flightless bird, serves as a point of reference for Benjamin Cowden’s series of kinetic sculptures. Cowden’s works explore motion, flight, and wind-propulsion via unlikely combinations of found materials. Cowden has modified kites, umbrellas, and wind sails to make wing-like forms, but much like the cassowary, these winged creatures don’t leave the ground. They do, however, move or respond to human interaction—often in surprising ways. Cowden has harvested motion sensors from outdoor lights and novelty candles, and in combination with windshield wiper motors, tent poles, fishing reel gears and his own skillfully designed circuits, has created works that not only use, but generate energy.
Cowden explains, “In a society so focused on energy consumption, it seems especially fitting to re-purpose the detritus of that consumption not only into works of art, but into devices which in turn create their own energy.” Cowden’s sculptures also prompt us to think about our relationship to the natural world. The crafting of bird-like forms from the waste stream in turn poses questions about the waste stream’s effects on actual birds and other animals. Assembled together his sculptures appear like residents of a sanctuary for the rarest and most unusual of creatures. But unlike the cassowaries which are truly endangered and whose future is uncertain, these mechanical beings made with objects from the waste stream are here to stay.
Cowden received his MFA in metalsmithing from Southern Illinois University at Carbondate. He is an instructor at the Crucible in Oakland and has been an artist-in-residence at the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Cookeville, Tennessee and at Monochrom in Vienna, Austria.
Ian Treasure: Road to Nowhere
Commonplace symbols and objects so ubiquitous in our lives that we hardly give them a second thought are the subject of Ian Treasure’s work. In his sculptures and installations he employs repetitive forms and modern mechanics in tandem with the playful use of time and duration. Works have an anthropomorphic quality, demanding our attention with sounds and movements filled with personality. Humor and surprise are key components, but works also have an element of poignancy and provide space for reflection on the complexities, as well as absurdities, of life.
In Treasure’s Road to Nowhere a small toy taxicab travels on a never-ending journey. Less a feel good road trip than an existential expedition, the taxi rides along a conveyer belt highway, following an infinite dotted line. Unlike a car, symbolic of individual exploration and freedom, the taxicab speaks to relinquishing or losing control of the journey—be it in our own lives or on a larger, societal level. When placed against the backdrop of the dump, it can serve as a metaphor for loss of control over our consumption and its environmental implications. Treasure’s other works include a group of trouble-maker school desks and a liberated drum snare.
Treasure received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and has been an artist-in-residence at the Djarassi Residency Artist Program in Woodside, California. He has participated in exhibitions in London, at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art in San Jose, California.
Hannah Quinn: Beyond the Bower
During her residency Hannah Quinn has created functional works that reference the traditions of craftspeople and home hobbyists, while also exploring utilitarian forms. Quinn has scavenged wood of all kinds—from a skateboard maker’s scraps to legs pulled from old tables and chairs—to play with the shapes of benches, stools, ladders and other simple, yet versatile objects.
A homemade stool has served as the model for Quinn’s own series of stools. Years of wear and repair visible in the old stool point to a time when furniture and household items were not disposable commodities, and illustrate how this basic object functioned within the life of those who used it. Quinn’s stools—50 identical forms out of construction-grade lumber scraps— illustrate the abundances of modern life and pose questions about mass-production vs. the homemade. Her stools also pay tribute to the original object’s maker and caretakers, and act as blank canvases for future lifetimes of use and repair.
Quinn, who is an undergraduate studying furniture design at the California College of the Arts, identifies one of the motivations behind her work as the desire to create objects that promote human interaction. Quinn will also exhibit small found items as scientific specimens, highlighting beloved tools and oddball objects found in the discards from home and professional workshops.
The Artist in Residence Program at Recology San Francisco is a one-of-a-kind program established in 1990 to encourage the conservation of natural resources and instill a greater appreciation for the environment and art in children and adults. Artists work for four months in studio space on site, use materials recovered from the Public Disposal and Recycling Area, and speak to students and the general public. Over ninety-five professional Bay Area artists have completed residencies. Applications are accepted annually in August.
Reception-Friday, May 17, 2013, 5-9pm
Reception-Saturday, May 18, 2013, 1-3pm
Additional viewing hours-Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 5-7pm
Art Studio located at 503 Tunnel Ave. and Environmental Learning Center Gallery at 401 Tunnel Ave., San Francisco, CA
Admission is free and open to the public, all ages welcome, wheelchair accessible.
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!
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.
The WASTE ZERO Specialist at Recology San Mateo County made at stop at the Kindercourt Preschool last month to teach their students about the benefits of recycling and composting.
The Kindercourt Preschool serves children from ages zero to four years old. An introduction to recycling and composting is just one of the great activities they participate in. To the children’s surprise, after the presentation a driver demonstrated how he picks up recycling using his fully-automated truck.
“Thank you very much for coming out to talk to the children, it was a big hit they were talking about it all day, you guys made a huge impact on them.”
– Teacher Michelle
Remember, Recology San Mateo County is here to help educate the community on the importance of recycling and composting. If you are interested in scheduling a presentation at your school, or training your restaurant or office staff, one of our WASTE ZERO Specialists will be happy to help!
Call us today at 650.595.3900 or visit us at RecologySanMateoCounty.com
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.
The word on the street last week was that a non-profit in San Francisco was renting Christmas trees to city residents for free to encourage the planting of trees and reduction of waste. We couldn’t find it, but other San Francisco-based organizations, including Friends of the Urban Forest and the SF Department of the Enviroment, are offering all kinds of trees adapted to the San Francisco weather (thought not for free).
It’s not just in San Francisco. All along the Peninsula you can find companies and organizations offering to rent and sometimes deliver a Christmas tree for the holidays. The idea may seem quaint but the implications are an important signal of American’s changing attitudes.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25-30 million pine and fir trees are sold each year during the holidays. These trees take between 7 and 15 years each to grow to six or seven feet–the height which makes them acceptable to most Americans. And while there are as many as 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs across the country, the status quo is that most of the 25-30 million trees end up in a landfill. In the Bay Area, Recology would compost Christmas trees but due to their high acidity, they are being made into biofuel.
In addition, there’s the question of which is the more sustainable solution: a tree that’s been cut down or an artificial tree? To get at an answer, we would need more detailed information than is currently available to us. Where were the real trees grown and under what conditions? The top producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. And how were they trees transfered to their final destination? How were they disposed of? As for artificial trees, we know that 80% of those sold world wide are made in China. Most are made from plastic and metal and are most likely not recycled at the end of their use as decoration.
Renting a live tree bipases these questions. The trees are never cut, and the transportation to and from the point of purchase would be about the same under any scenario. But there are other benefits. According to Mercury News, for about the same price as a high-end precut tree, families can enjoy the smell of a tree for the entire season, reduce the risk of fires, and we would add, have to do a little less vaccuming after the holidays.
If you celebrate Christmas, consider a real tree that you can use over and over again. If you did get a pre-cut tree, visit Recology San Francisco‘s, Recology San Mateo County‘s or Recology Auburn Placer’s websites, call Recology Butte Colusa Counties or Recology Vacaville Solano to see how you can recycle your tree.
Recology has been working to transform the landfill industry for over a decade. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Landfills are the place where we put all the things that cities and towns don’t recycle, the things that we don’t yet know how to recycle, and the things that were made without any thought given to their recoverability. Unfortunately, product designers are still slow to catch up on making recoverable products. Many municipal programs still don’t offer complete recycling and composting programs throughout the U.S. Many families, businesses and well-meaning people don’t understand composting. And then there are all the other quirky things, like ADC for example.
In California, 10% or nearly 3.5 million tons of the 34.9 million tons of material that were disposed of last year (including what was landfilled in California, imported and exported) was alternative daily cover, or ADC. According to CalRecycle, ADC is:
CalRecycle-approved materials other than soil used as a temporary overlay on an exposed landfill face. Generally, these materials must be processed so that they do not allow gaps in the face surface, which would provide breeding grounds for insects and vermin. Public Resources Code section 41781.3 stipulates this practice is recycling, not disposal, and authorizes Cal Recycle to adopt regulations, such as Title 27 California Code of Regulations, section 20690. Approved materials include processed green materials, sludge, ash and kiln residue, compost, construction and demolition debris, and special foams and fabrics.
In other words, ADC is material that actually goes to the landfill, and for all intents and purposes is landfilled, but ADC is counted as landfill diversion because it prevents clean soil from being imported and then contaminated at a landfill. That’s not so bad right? Instead of using clean soil to cover an exposed landfill on a day to day basis, why not use other materials that serve the same function? Well, a closer look at what was actually used as ADC may be enlightening.
Much of what was used for ADC in California in 2008 was auto shredder waste, sometimes called “auto shred” or “auto fluff.” According to the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology, “Auto fluff is waste left over from shredding old cars for scrap metal. It can contain heavy metals and poly-chlorinated biphenyls.” Although this material would probably have been landfilled anyway, it counts towards the diversion rate.
So, now that you know that ADC can be counted towards landfill diversion, how are the diversion leaders in California using ADC in 2008?
Oakland used 202 thousand tons of ADC that year. San Jose used 159 thousand. San Francisco used 63 thousand.
In 2008, city of Oakland reported a diversion rate of 66%, but nearly 25% of that was achieved through ADC. Without ADC, it’s diversion rate would have been 41%!
San Jose diverted 65% that year, and 10% of that diversion was through ADC. Without ADC, it’s diversion rate would have been 55%!
San Francisco achieved a 72% diversion rate, but only 3% was from ADC. Without ADC, it’s diversion rate would have been 69%.
The important point here is that many cities across California are getting diversion credit without doing the heavy lifting. There are many cities that do not really divert materials from landfills. They may not create programs to educate people about reducing their consumption, programs to make it possible to reuse materials, and certainly don’t work to create robust recycling and composting programs. It means that although cities are achieving relatively high diversion rates, they are still landfilling valuable materials but getting the credit for landfill diversion by abusing the leeway CalRecycle has given them to count ADC towards their diversion rate.
Until there is a level playing field regarding what material can be used as alternative daily cover, and how landfill diversion is calculated, we will have to keep pounding the drum of resource recovery and insisting on the concept of WASTE ZERO. It is the only real and permanent way to make a positive impact on our natural world, our children’s future, and create the jobs that are so badly needed right now.