Monday, June 22, 2009

Reduce, reuse...or compost?

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I noticed waste containers labeled: “recycle,” “compost,” and “landfill.” Okay, I was familiar with “recycle” (plastic, paper, or cans) and with “landfill” (we call that trash, here in L.A.); but what on earth was supposed to go in “compost”?

The EPA defines compost as “organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants.”

On our family farm in southern Illinois, we did not have a garbage disposal. Instead, we disposed of all food waste by simply tossing it out in one of the fields around our home. That which was not eaten outright by the critters fertilized the soil to help our crops grow. It was what we would call a win-win-win in the business world.

However, I’d never seen an official “compost” can in a public venue before. What was that about?

Apparently, composting is big business. Norcal Waste Systems, Inc. offers curbside pick-up of food scraps and other compostable materials, which comprise about a third of all residential garbage. Over 300 tons of food scraps and yard waste are collected each day and then processed by large-scale composting facilities outside of the city.

Participating customers can throw everything from food scraps and tree trimmings to paper take-out boxes (you know, those oil-stained pizza boxes that regular recyclers won’t accept) and even cutlery labeled “compostable” into green compost carts. The waste is then processed and turned into a rich, organic material which can be used to fertilize local vineyards and farms as well as for landscape supply yards.

In addition to providing a quality product for local businesses, Norcal Waste Systems and its subsidiaries are helping to meet San Francisco’s mandated goal of diverting 75% of garbage to recycling by 2010, surpassing California’s 50% recycling law (AB939). Currently, food waste in most cities goes directly to landfills where it decomposes and creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Reducing the amount of food waste we dump into our landfills could have a significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions as well as on the cost to those businesses who receive discounts off their garbage bills. According to Norcal Waste Systems, “Many restaurants are composting over 75% of their waste! With up to 75% discounts off your garbage bill for recycling and composting, you WILL lower your garbage costs by recycling and composting more.”

And that’s food for thought.


Small Footprints said...

It is so encouraging to see a city take these kinds of steps. While I believe that individual efforts matter a lot, it's when big business and city governments take action that we start to see significant improvements.

I knew there was a reason that I love San Francisco so much! :)

Thanks for sharing!

Small Footprints

Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention throwing out food for the critters to eat. We have three trash cans: recyclables, trash, and yard trimmings. The critters around my house have a field day making a mess of our trash can and eating the trash.

Racoons, possums, cats, birds, bugs, and what not could easily consume our trash if I tossed it out in the open. Of course, the association would be all over us if we did that.

- Steve Tremp

K.B. Keilbach said...

Yeah, I'm afraid throwing table scraps out in the open only works if you're living on a couple hundred acres of land. Here in the burbs, we have to dispose of it properly in our trash can or feed it to our pet pig :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Even with a small yard, plants in pots, or small flower/herb beds, it's easy to compost in a plastic bin using worms (but you have to keep the lid and punch holes in it to keep the robins from harvesting your compost makers). I used plain soil and kept adding fruit and veggie debris and let the worms do the rest. It's yucky, but my plants love it. Why let the city have all those goodies?

K.B. Keilbach said...

Yes, I suppose if you don't have a pig, you'll have to resort to worms. Pigs are cuter, though :)