Of the Earth

Composting at the County Level Gets Progressive

By Judith Bernstein | November 22, 2017
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I have always loved food so there usually isn’t much left over on my plate after a meal—which may explain why I knew so little about composting. But when I met with Bill Worrell, Manager, and Patti Toews, Program Director, of SLO Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA; IWMA.com), I learned that food waste as compost is the Midas touch the veggies and plants in our gardens need in order to thrive. And now all SLO County businesses and residents—including apartment-dwellers like me—can turn their dross of food scraps into composting gold with the IWMA’s residential food waste program.

Why has composting become so important in recent years? Well, for one thing, the amount of food waste that goes into landfills is astonishing According to the SLO City website: “There are about 9 million pounds of organic waste going to our state landfills each year.” And the IWMA website notes: “Food waste represents about 18% of the current volume of the solid waste stream in California.” Since landfill space is limited, action was needed.

The IWMA website has a teaser headline about our local program: “What do New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Luis Obispo have in common? They’re all now recycling food waste!” In 2015, The Garbage Company distributed scrap buckets complete with brochures illustrating how easy it was to participate in the compost program to 50,000 residents in Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande and unincorporated areas south of the grade.

Now that the program has been in operation for two years, I wondered how many county residents are still participating. Unfortunately, for a number- cruncher like myself, there is no precise answer to that question. But Bill hopes that, “As the technology improves we’ll be automatically able to weigh the bins and know how many pounds of food waste they contain. The holy grail of garbage is to be able to do this!” However, IWMA does know that since the program began, participation has increased, especially from businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, wineries, and local tourist spots such as the Avila Valley Barn (AvilaValleyBarn.com).

I wondered why more residents didn’t compost leftover food and Patti had a three word answer: “The ‘ick’ factor!” However, she had some wise suggestions as to how that could be overcome: “I empty my pail once a week. During that time it grows fuzz mold—and that’s a good thing. It means Mother Nature is starting to work, breaking down and destroying the waste. But if people don’t want the pail on their counters, they can put it in the freezer and defrost it on collection day or put it in their refrigerator with baking soda sprinkled on.” I made a mental note of this advice as Bill and Patti had gifted me with my own compost pail to take home.

Once the material is whisked away by garbage collection services, it’s taken to an aerobic “windrow” composting facility in Santa Maria and turned into useable compost and sold to gardeners and farmers.

But what really floats the boat of the IWMA is a new composting facility that’s under construction on Buckley Road near the airport. San Luis Garbage Company has partnered with Hitachi Zosen of Switzerland to design, finance, build and operate the “Kompogas Anaerobic Digestion Facility” as part of a 20-year plan. There are 76 other Kompogas facilities around the world, but the one in San Luis Obispo will be the first in the United States.

At a time when climate change is front and center in the news, the plant will have a special role to play in mitigating its e ects. Food waste generates methane gas which is 87 times more potent in regard to global warming than carbon dioxide.  e new Kompogas plant will capture the methane gas so it’s not released into the atmosphere.  en it can be used as a renewable energy source to generate electricity for PG&E’s grid, and/or used as fuel for the solid waste collection vehicles.

I was anxious to visit the plant, but Bill suggested I wait until summer 2018 when it’s completed. I did take a peek at the construction photos though, and told Bill that I looked forward to coming back next year for a tour of the new facility.

“I tell my Board it will attract more people than Hearst Castle!” Bill tells me excitedly. Ambitious? Yes. But so is the entire program, and its progress to date is a good omen for achieving the goal printed on the Authority’s brochure: “Love Food, Not Waste: Turn food Scraps into Compost.”

Article from Edible San Luis Obispo at http://ediblesanluisobispo.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/composting-county-level-gets-progressive
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