Launch Slideshow

Image

Food: the final fontier

Food: the final fontier

  • Image

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp2F9%2Etmp_tcm111-1358572.jpg?width=300

    true

    Image

    300

    Since the City of Modesto, Calif., expanded its Food and Organic Waste Recycling Program, known as FORK, from residential to commercial collections in 2008, restaurants, food purveyors, hospitals, and other businesses have recycled 2,944 tons. The city composts 65,000 tons per year into fertilizer, earning a 17% credit toward its state-mandated diversion requirement. Photos: Nick Giron Photography

  • Image

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp2FA%2Etmp_tcm111-1358574.jpg?width=300

    true

    Image

    300

  • Image

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp2FB%2Etmp_tcm111-1358579.jpg?width=600

    true

    Image

    600

  • Image

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmp2FC%2Etmp_tcm111-1358582.jpg?width=300

    true

    Image

    300

    Any business operating within the city limits of Modesto, Calif., gets free training, display materials/visual instructions, and up to five 23-gallon Rubbermaid Slim Jim containers for use in their kitchens to help employees sort correctly. They empty the bins into a dedicated front-load dumpster outside.

 

Going green is easier than ever if you're a business operating within the city limits of Modesto, Calif., and generate a healthy amount of food waste. Our Food and Organic Waste Recycling Program (FORK) turns the waste into nutrient-rich, certified-organic compost for farmers, landscapers, and the general public. This environmentally friendly approach to waste disposal is one reason the five-year-old program's been so successful.

Our programs to manage the 270,000 tons of waste Modestans produce every year are a highly visible part of daily life; and the Modesto Parks, Recreation & Neighborhoods Department has consistently incorporated the concepts of reduce, reuse, and recycle to contribute to a higher quality of life.

That's very important to our central California community, where the mountains (Yosemite National Park) and San Francisco are two hours away and a mild Mediterranean climate produces beautiful springs and falls and warm summers. Median household income is $49,413. Many residents come from families that have lived here for generations. Given this history, they have intense community pride. They organize themselves into neighborhood associations. Hundreds volunteer on city clean-up days. Their efforts help us find and remove 130 tons of illegally dumped items each year.

In addition to food, we recycle scrap metal, household hazardous waste, e-waste, oil and oil filters, tires, phone books, and — of course — glass bottles, plastics, and aluminum cans. We've partnered with Habitat for Humanity so residents can buy lumber, flooring, electrical items, and other construction items for half the retail price. They can call twice a year to schedule a free bulky items pickup.

Since 1989, whatever we can't recycle is burned to produce electricity at a facility owned and operated by Covanta Energy Inc. under a service agreement with Modesto and Stanislaus County as Covanta Stanislaus Inc. Revenues from the sale of electricity, recovered materials, and tipping fees from regular garbage and proprietary materials offset the facility's 24/7 year-round operations costs. Jurisdictions that participate in a Waste to Energy Joint Powers Authority get a 10% credit toward their state-mandated diversion requirement. The facility generates 20 megawatts, enough to power 20,000 homes; and recovers 5,000 tons of ferrous metal.

Yard waste, food waste, and paper products make up more than 66% of residential waste, so in 1997 we launched a backyard composting education and bin program and began using 50 acres of public land to compost the material. We process 65,000 tons a year into Mo-Gro-Pro fertilizer that sells for $3.25 per 1 cubic-foot bag.

All these activities produce annual gross receipts of more than $25 million, contributing $1.6 million to the city's general fund and $940,000 for street repairs. They also fully or partly fund litter abatement and an urban forestry program encompassing more than 110,000 street and park trees. (We've held the Tree City USA designation for 32 consecutive years since 1980.)

Statewide, organics comprise one-third of the 40 million tons of waste that 38 million Californians generate each year. With landfills slowly but surely running out of space, since 1985 the state's slowly raised the amount — first 25%, then 50%, and now 75% — that cities, counties, and state agencies must divert by 2020. To get there, the state isrequiring the commercial sector to begin recycling as of July 1.

So we're always looking for ways to meet our mandate of less than 5 pounds of waste/person/day.

Modesto's 50-acre composting facility is the linchpin of its Food and Organic Waste Recycling Program (FORK) and one reason the city consistently beats its annual landfill-diversion mandate of 4.7 pounds per capita. It takes four to six months to process organic material into a nutrient-rich soil amendment for farmers, contractors, and the general public to use.

What's compostable:

  • All food scraps
  • Kitchen trimmings
  • Plate scrapings
  • Coffee grounds
  • Filters and tea bags
  • Meat, bones, fish
  • Dairy products
  • Baked goods
  • Paper products: cups, plates, towels, place mats, milk cartons
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Wood crates
  • Yard trimmings
  • Floral clippings

What's NOT compostable

  • Styrofoam
  • Glass
  • Plastic
  • Metal
  • Liquids
  • Ice
  • Grease
  • Beverage syrup containers
  • Cardboard lined with foil or plastic
  • Other nonbiodegradable items