Clovis food-scrap recycling program off to a slow start

The Fresno BeeSeptember 29, 2013 

Setting it straight: This story originally misstated the term state "mandate" in a story about green waste collection. The state has a goal of 75% diversion of trash from 1990 levels by the year 2020, but it is not a mandate. 

Clovis sanitation worker Gregory Paminto peeks in trash bins all the time.

It's part of his job.

In recent weeks, he has been inspecting green waste containers to tally how many customers are using the city's new program allowing residents to place food scraps in their green waste bins.

Clovis joins Visalia among Valley cities with a food-scrap recycling program.

On a recent round, Paminto estimates 1 or 2 in 20 customers had tossed food waste into the green bin. In one south Clovis can, leftovers of corn, squash and potatoes nestled on a bed of grass clippings.

"I think residents just don't know," Paminto said, echoing a sentiment that slowed the start of Visalia's program.

Similar to other cities, Clovis residents separate waste in three containers: trash in gray, recyclables in blue and yard waste in green.

The food waste program, which has no added cost, allows residents to place food scraps in green containers. The only rule: Don't put food in bags.

Food waste is sent to the trash contractor's yard and then to an Avenal composting facility where it's aged until it's ready to become soil amendments.

Clovis is trying to keep food waste out of its landfill to extend the life of the landfill, but that's not the only reason. Food scraps buried in a landfill generate greenhouse gases, such as methane, that go into the atmosphere. Scientists say food scraps cause about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and methane is 21% more dangerous to the environment than vehicle emissions.

Pioneers include Visalia

There are about three dozen California communities, most in the Bay Area, where food waste is collected for composting, says an official for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle.

Food waste is "a huge issue," the single largest waste in landfills, said Mark Oldfield, communications director for CalRecycle.

"A good deal of it comes from the commercial sector," he said. "But the amount coming from residential (food scraps) is not inconsequential."

Visalia started its first residential food scraps composting program in 2009 and expanded it citywide the following year. Last year, the city added commercial accounts, such as restaurants, and has gotten good response, said Nathan Garza, a natural resource conservation technician with the city.

He said some residents still are not aware of the residential green waste program for food scraps.

"It was definitely spread by word of mouth on the residential side," he said.

San Francisco-based Recology, a solid waste contractor, began composting food scraps 17 years ago.

"It's one of the keys to meeting our environmental challenges," said Robert Reed, Recology public relations manager.

San Francisco's program has collected nearly 1.2 million tons of food scraps and plant materials since its inception, the equivalent of removing 31/2 years of emissions from all traffic crossing the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Reed said.

Meeting state rules

State guidelines require that cities reduce landfill waste from 1990 levels by 75% by 2020. Clovis already met previous rules requiring 50% of landfill waste diverted by 2000.

There are almost no options remaining — beyond food scraps — for residential trash pickup to meet the 2020 deadline, said Luke Serpa, Clovis public utilities director. He said the city may look to commercial customers for additional landfill trash diversion.

Since 1990, the city has reduced the amount of trash going to its landfill by about 64%, he said, to the equivalent of 3.4 pounds per day per person, he said. By 2020, the state will require that the city get to 2.4 pounds per person, he said.

"On the residential (trash pickup) side we have done just about everything we can," Serpa said. "We can't divert 75% of waste without a robust food waste program."

The green waste goes to Allied Waste's facilities in Fresno and is then delivered to Kochergen Farms Composting in Avenal.

Keith Hester, general manager for Allied Waste in Fresno, said his company plans to sample the waste next month to estimate the amount of food in Clovis green waste.

He suspects food scraps make up less than 2% of material disposed in Clovis green waste containers.

Food waste, he said, makes for a better compost product as long as it's mixed with green waste in appropriate proportions, he said.

Fresno city officials also are considering instituting a food waste program, but there are still some hurdles, said Jerry Schuber, solid waste division manager.

He said the city must use facilities that are permitted to take food scraps in green waste. So far, he said, those are not available.

"In the future it will definitely be something we will look at," he said. "We also will look at Clovis to see how their program works out."


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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