Tag Archives: compost

Sonoma County officials seek to resurrect regional green waste composting operation

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The search for a new home for composting Sonoma County’s green waste is moving forward as officials seek to finally end the costly practice of shipping green-bin material off to neighboring counties.Within several years, the county may again have a single main facility — or several smaller ones — to process grass clippings, food scraps and other green waste, which has been sent by truck to other counties for the past year and a half since the former central site shut down amid a lawsuit over water pollution concerns.

It is not yet clear exactly what form a renewed regional compost operation — long a disputed county matter — would take. But the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is advancing plans to bring in a private operator to handle the green waste from local cities, with a request for development proposals likely going out later this spring.And the waste agency — which is on the cusp of securing a new lifeline from local governments — is looking to learn from its past troubles by shifting as much responsibility as possible onto the shoulders of the new private operator.

“Essentially, we’re just the customer at this point,” said Patrick Carter, the waste agency’s executive director. “We’re committing a flow of green waste to a private company on private land, where they assume all of the liabilities for making sure that it is in compliance and operating correctly, in exchange for us committing our flow for 10-plus years. It’s a different model.”

Sonoma Compost Co. processed green waste at the county’s central landfill west of Cotati from 1993 until October 2015, when its closure was triggered by a Clean Water Act lawsuit.

The county began sending green waste to sites in Ukiah, Napa, Novato and Vacaville for disposal, a practice that now costs more than $4.7 million annually, according to Carter.

Read more at: Sonoma County officials seek to resurrect regional green waste composting operation | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

Single-bin recycling frustrates California’s goal to divert trash from landfills

James Dunn, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

As single-stream recycling evolved, “people got more and more confused,” Salyers said. “They would throw things in that weren’t” recyclable. “We’re trying to tell them what they can put in their blue cans.”

Recycling sounds like an ideal solution to reduce mountains of trash. Facing business and legal issues, local recycling efforts are also plagued by technical and market problems.

Trash typically contains nearly two-thirds of its weight in organic material that could be composted or glass, metal, plastic or paper that can be recycled. Nearly 25 years ago, California passed law to divert recyclable material out of garbage. Some of that effort worked, but recyclables separated by businesses and consumers into blue bins often contain trash that contaminates the good stuff, reducing its value in markets for used plastic, glass, metal and paper.

Sonoma County’s trash volume dropped from 375,000 tons in 2007 to 263,000 tons in 2014, still nearly half a billion pounds. At that rate of more than 1,000 pounds per person per year, the 1.3 million people in Sonoma, Solano, Marin and Napa counties toss away more than 1.3 billion pounds of stuff a year.

The Ratto Group, owned by James Ratto, does trash pickup and recycling in Sonoma County with subsidiary companies that sprawl across the region under its North Bay Corporation: Redwood Empire Disposal in Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Recycling and Collection, Petaluma Refuse and Recycling, Rohnert Park Disposal, Windsor Refuse and Recycling, and Novato Disposal.

Marin Sanitary Service, operated by the Garbarino family, operates from headquarters in San Rafael. Napa Recycling and Waste and Napa County Recycling and Waste serve that county. Sister company Upper Valley Disposal and Recycling serves Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Garaventa Enterprises serves Solano County.

An audit by R3 Consulting Group for the city of Santa Rosa presented last year alleged that Ratto’s company did not meet minimum levels of a 45 percent diversion of recyclables, and operated trucks and a recycling facility that fell short of acceptable standards.

The city contract with Ratto expires at the end of 2017 and brought the company about $27 million a year.

“The company’s two material recovery facilities are approximately 15 years old, antiquated, and are not able to process the incoming recyclable materials to current industry standards,” the R3 report said. “There is no effective means for metering the incoming materials,” and “we observed numerous rats in the facility,” far more than staff observed in comparable facilities.

One facility was ordered closed, and Ratto Group faces potential fines that could reach $14 million.

Read more at: Single-bin recycling frustrates California’s goal to divert trash from landfills | The North Bay Business Journal

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Santa Rosa buying Petaluma hay ranch as treated waste disposal site

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is buying a Petaluma pasture to make sure it has enough places to put people’s processed poop.

The city is close to acquiring a 235-acre Lakeville Highway hay ranch so it can use the property to spread a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process known as biosolids.

The approximately $2 million deal, which was advanced by the Board of Public Utilities Thursday, highlights the pressures the city faces in finding affordable ways to recycle waste in an era of increasingly stringent environmental regulations.

Santa Rosa recycles its wastewater to irrigate crops and produce geothermal energy at The Geysers, the latter solution costing the city $205 million to build while earning engineering and sustainability awards.

But less known by the general public is what happens to the 26,000 tons of thick black sludge that remains behind annually after the main treatment processes are complete.

That’s enough to “fill the entire playing field of AT&T Park eight feet deep every year,” said Mike Prinz, director of subregional operations for Santa Rosa Water.

More than a third of it is mixed with green waste like chopped up leaves and grass clippings to make high-quality compost, most of which is sold to local farms, vineyards and landscaping companies.

A far cheaper option has long been to apply the nutrient-rich material, which has the consistency of wet coffee grounds, directly to farmland as fertilizer.

Because the waste goes through an extra 21-day digestion process to capture methane to power the Llano Road treatment plant, it has far fewer pathogens and odors than the byproducts of other treatment plants.

Nevertheless, there are strict rules about how it can be applied, including that it be disked into the soil, set back from creeks and public access restricted after application.

Read more at: Santa Rosa buying Petaluma hay ranch as treated waste disposal site | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County weighs how to bring back composting

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Black soldier flies eat decomposing food scraps, turning it into natural fertilizer. Anaerobic digestion converts yard debris into organic compost in an oxygen-starved environment while making natural gas out of the methane produced. Compost facilities incorporate worm farms to break down food and yard waste into high-quality compost for backyard gardeners and large-scale farmers.

Sonoma County waste officials are considering such technologies as part of a plan to bring locally produced compost back to the county, roughly a year after a high-profile Clean Water Act lawsuit forced the shutdown of Sonoma Compost Co., a private operation at the Central Landfill west of Cotati that since 1993 served as the largest local producer of compost.

Between now and Nov. 14, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is seeking input and assessing interest from businesses with experience in composting, as well as entrepreneurs who may be interested in launching new local composting operations. Requests for specific proposals are expected to open early next year.

Hauling the 88,000 tons of yard waste and food scraps produced in the county to four outside sites in Novato, Ukiah, Napa and Vacaville costs ratepayers $4.5 million per year, according to waste agency officials, up from $2.5 million when it was handled locally. Garbage bill rates have ticked up slightly, compost has become more expensive and transporting organic material to neighboring sites ratchets up emissions of greenhouse gases associated with producing compost, county waste officials said.

Supervisors expressed support this week for the idea of multiple sites run by the private sector, a reversal from previous plans to have the waste management agency operate a central site. Private composting business could halt the practice of trucking away compostable materials, reduce waste management agency costs and eliminate future risks of legal action.

Read more at: Sonoma County weighs how to bring back composting | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County’s improving economy means more trash 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

CalRecycle spokeswoman Heather Jones said the disposal increase and recycling rate decrease suggested the state needed to continue expanding its recycling infrastructure.

Sonoma County threw away nearly 63,000 tons more trash last year compared with the year before, according to recent figures that indicate the nation’s improving economy hampered local efforts to divert more waste from landfills.

The county disposed of about 386,900 tons of material in 2015, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency reported last month. That’s an average of 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day, compared to 3.6 pounds per person per day a year earlier.

The latest figures show local waste disposal increased significantly as the economy improved in recent years. The county threw out about 306,100 tons in 2012, and disposal has increased each year since then, according to reports from the waste management agency.

Officials said the disposal uptick was driven by the economic rebound — a factor that fueled a similar increase for the state overall.

As a whole, Californians last year sent 33.2 million tons of material to landfills in 2015, up from 31.2 million tons in 2014, according to the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle. On a per-resident basis, Californians threw away 4.7 pounds per person per day in 2015, as opposed to 4.5 pounds in 2014. The Sonoma County waste figures do not include recycled or composted material, nor do they encompass hazardous waste or trash generated on tribal land, said Patrick Carter, executive director of the county waste management agency.

Waste disposed at county transfer stations increased to about 278,400 tons in 2015, up about 5,000 tons from 2014, according to Carter. The total county figure also includes waste that originated in Sonoma County but was disposed of elsewhere. Carter said the total increase was likely driven by a better economy, which he said could have resulted in more construction and demolition debris as well as more trash from consumer spending.

“When people have no disposable income, they’re not going to be buying things, and they’re not going to be throwing those things away,” Carter said. “But when they’re making more purchases, either they’re getting rid of their old stuff or they’re getting rid of packaging and things like that.”

Read more at: Sonoma County’s improving economy means more trash | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After nine years and $1 million of study, Sonoma County waste officials say they’re abandoning plans to build a new composting facility at the county landfill west of Cotati.

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency announced Monday that as part of a legal settlement with landfill neighbors, it would no longer pursue the green waste project, pegged at up to $55 million.

“This is not, I think, government’s proudest moment,” said Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park assistant city manager and an agency board member. “On the other hand, it’s better to spend $1 million than $50 million and not have a good solution.”

Under terms of the settlement, the neighbors will dismiss their lawsuit if the agency votes next month to rescind certification of the environmental report for the project and other documents related to the Central Landfill site.

The decision, which won’t be finalized until an agency board meeting next month, marks the second time in a year that neighbors have successfully blocked a composting operation at the Mecham Road landfill.

Read more at: New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County supervisors vote to extend compost agency

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors have voted to extend the beleaguered Sonoma County Waste Management Agency until officials can hammer out a deal to return composting to a local facility and settle a high-profile lawsuit challenging the planned future compost site at the Central Landfill.

The agency, which oversees the county’s multimillion dollar composting operation, will dissolve next February unless representatives from Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Rohnert Park approve a one-year extension until February 2018. The county and the remaining six cities already have voted in favor of extending the agency operations, which include education programs and collection of yard waste, food scraps and hazardous materials.

Santa Rosa and Healdsburg will take up the matter this month. Rohnert Park voted in January against an extension, but city officials could take up the issue again. Meanwhile, officials said they hope to resolve some points of contention.

“We think we can get the fundamental issues resolved before the sunset date,” said Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park’s assistant city manager, who represents the city on the agency’s board.

The agency has been under fire in recent years for what some county and city officials contend is an inefficient organization plagued with prolonged legal troubles. At issue is construction and operation of a new $55 million compost facility at the Central Landfill on Mecham Road west of Cotati. Sonoma Compost Co., a private company and the county’s former dominant compost provider, was forced to close in October by a settlement of a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by a group of neighbors who live near the landfill. The settlement cost ratepayers more than $1.1 million.

Since the closure, ratepayers have seen increases of about $4 on their monthly garbage bills to pay for the costs of hauling organic matter out of the county, said Patrick Carter, the agency’s interim director.

“We are desperate to bring compost back to Sonoma County — our farmers need it, and outhauling all that waste is not a good economic or environmental solution,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the county’s representative on the 10-member board of directors for the agency. “The question is how do we build a state-of-the-art facility without being subject to lawsuit after lawsuit.”

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors vote to extend compost agency | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Food scraps now OK in Sonoma County yard waste bins

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Under a little-recognized shift in rules at Sonoma County’s Waste Management Agency, households are now allowed to throw all food scraps into the green bin, including meat, bones and dairy products.

Rules were changed last July, when the agency started hauling yard waste and food scraps to compost facilities outside Sonoma County, but agency officials did not inform the public. Since the closure of Sonoma Compost Co. last October, the agency has been trucking all yard and food waste to compost facilities in Novato, Ukiah and Vacaville.

“We didn’t tell everyone right away because we wanted to make sure what we were taking to the other sites was acceptable to them,” said Patrick Carter, interim executive director for the agency. “We wanted to make sure there was enough capacity, and we didn’t want to cause rates to go up.”

Ratepayers have already seen higher bills this year. Rates have risen roughly $4 per month since October, Carter said.It costs about $4.5 million to truck organic waste out of county, up from $2 million when it was handled at the Central Landfill west of Cotati.

Waste accepted for compost includes produce, pasta and bread, eggshells, meat and bones, cheese, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, grass clippings and leaves and paper plates and napkins.

Read more at: Food scraps now OK in Sonoma County yard | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Recycler fined for garbage-filled Santa Rosa centers

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The company has blamed people who throw garbage into recycling bins for the excessive waste material contaminating its recycling stream. They say the trend toward smaller garbage bins, which are less expensive, has exacerbated the problem.

Sonoma County health officials have begun fining the region’s largest waste hauler for failing to clean up the garbage that is accumulating at its Santa Rosa recycling centers.

The county this week accused the North Bay Corp. of violating the cease and desist order it issued against the company Aug. 28.

The order instructs the company to immediately stop hauling recyclable material contaminated with garbage to its recycling facilities on Standish Avenue without the proper permits.

North Bay officials last week submitted a plan for cleaning up its operations, which includes seeking the proper permits, public education, encouraging employees to report violations, and sending contaminated waste to another facility in Petaluma and ultimately out of the county.

But the county cited “significant shortcomings” with the plan, and began issuing fines against the company of $250 per day after Aug. 28 and $500 per day after Sept. 12. That amounts to $6,750 in fines to date. The fines ramp up from there, increasing to $1,500 per day beginning Oct. 1, $3,000 beginning Nov. 1, and $5,000 beginning Dec. 1.

Read more at: Recycler fined for garbage-filled Santa Rosa centers | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County landfill neighbors sue over site of future compost operation

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of neighbors near Sonoma County’s Central Landfill west of Cotati are renewing their legal fight against a plan to use the dump as a long-term site for composting green waste, an operation they contend exposes them to foul odors and poses a threat to water and wildlife habitat.

The group, Renewed Efforts of Neighbors Against Landfill Expansion, filed its second lawsuit in less than a year against the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, this time challenging the environmental review of the future compost site, set to be constructed at Central Landfill.

The 15-page complaint, filed Wednesday, claims the study did not properly analyze impacts on air quality, traffic and endangered California tiger salamander habitat.

“It is clearly flawed — it’s near a school, it’s near neighborhoods and it has traffic problems,” said Roger Larsen, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who lives in the Happy Acres subdivision near the landfill, and who has fought the project for years. “I’ve been watching this for a long time, and problem after problem keeps coming up.”

The lawsuit seeks to have the court shelve the current environmental review and order a new study be prepared. It also seeks to vacate the waste agency’s approval of the new compost site.

Read more at: Sonoma County landfill neighbors sue over site of | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living