Launch Slideshow

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Food: the final fontier

Food: the final fontier

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    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

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    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.

 

CALIFORNIA'S MANDATED WASTE-DIVERSION GOALS

Known as CalRecycle, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery determines how much solid waste a city, county, or state agency must divert from landfills each year on a pounds-per-capita basis. As this table shows, the City of Modesto has consistently been under its target of 5.

Beginning July 1, commercial enterprises must recycle 13.8 pounds per employee. Having successfully engaged 21 businesses, mostly but not all restaurants, the Parks, Recreation & Neighborhoods Department is reaching out to other businesses — assisted living/senior living centers, for example — that generate food, paper products, and cardboard. Integrated Waste Specialist Karin Rodriguez estimates that the city's 11,000 commercial waste-collection accounts could produce 25,000 tons of food waste annually.

“Modesto's Food and Organic Waste Recycling Program is proof that great things can be accomplished when the public and private sector create a partnership for community improvement,” says Kristin Olsen of Modesto, who represents the 25th district in the California State Assembly. “This program can now serve as a model for other cities that want to find environmentally friendly ways to improve their quality of life.”

Source: CalRecycle


Getting residents to recycle kitchen waste

We use a “two-can” garbage program: black for nonrecyclables destined for the waste-to-energy facility and green for yardwaste and paper products including phone books, tea bags, coffee filters; cardboard, and chipboard.

In 2001 we added food scraps to the green-bin list with a pilot program of 1,000 households. We gave them a plastic kitchen countertop container, explained what's compostable (see list at left), and asked them to throw the material in with their yardwaste. This was and still is a voluntary program. We don't know exactly how many residents participate because the food waste is mixed in with all the other organic materials.

In 2005, EPA provided limited grant funding for recycling pilot projects through selected regional offices, one of which was ours (Region 9). Given our volume of green waste and the fact that we own one of the few composting sites permitted by the state to take in all types of food waste, we decided to apply. If we researched what other communities had done, we wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel and could extend food recycling to the commercial sector at minimal cost. We benchmarked the City of Berkeley's program and visited their operation to get an idea of what works and what doesn't.

We value the input and expertise of our two collection companies — Bertolotti Disposal Inc. (seven-year rolling contract) and Gilton Solid Waste (10-year rolling contract) — which service Modesto's 57,000 residential accounts and 11,000 commercial accounts. Their contracts require them to help us meet state mandates, so they really are our partners in holistic waste management. With a $50,000 EPA grant in hand, in 2008 we asked them to make our new goal happen; and they did.

But even before the city council and California Restaurant Association endorsed our latest program, at least one business was already on board.

Meeting commercial customers' needs

Memorial Medical Center is very active environmentally. The 423-bed acute care facility is part of Sutter Health, a group of nonprofit hospitals and physician organizations that shares resources and expertise — including waste management best practices — in more than 100 communities.

In the 1990s, the center's “Green Team” developed and implemented Hospital Waste Reduction Policy & Procedures. The purchasing department works with employees and vendors to reduce, reuse, and specify recycled products whenever possible. In 1997 the center bought a mulching mower to reuse 108 tons of grass clippings, earning a berth in our first annual Recycling Awards (and every year since).

We also let the center know when applications for the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (known as CalRecycle) Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) are due. The center's been a recipient at least 15 times since the program was launched in 1993. In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, the center diverted 803 tons and was looking forward to seeing how eliminating Styrofoam containers from the cafeteria would affect future results.

Over the years, the center's list of recyclables had grown to include batteries, wood pallets, cardboard, office paper, fluorescent light bulbs, pharmaceutical waste, computer components, sharps, pulse oximeter sensors, and plastic. Susan Clarot, R.D., dining and nutrition services manager for Sutter Central Valley Region, contacted me as soon as she heard about our impending commercial food-recycling program. Since July 2008, the center has composted more than 567 tons.

The Commercial Food and Organic Waste Recycling Program (FORK) is open to any business that operates within city limits. Not surprisingly, it's popular with both chain (Red Lobster, Applebee's) and mom-and-pop restaurants; but retailers like Costco and grocery stores also participate. Ten establishments took the initial plunge and 11 more have followed.

We give participants free training, display materials/visual instructions, and up to five 23-gallon plastic containers. They tell Bertolotti Disposal or Gilton Solid Waste what size front-loader bin they want for outside their building, and how often — one to four days a week — they'd like it serviced.

My advice? Be flexible. It's not a one-size-fits-all for businesses. Be willing to try to meet their individual needs. That's critical.

But more than worth it.

The statewide diversion rate is 65%, but Californians still throw away 4.5 pounds of trash per person each day. The amount of recycled items generated by Modesto's commercial and residential customers grows every year. In addition to helping save the planet, we're setting an example for future generations by helping them grow up with recycling as a way of life.

— Rodriguez (krodriguez@modestogov.com) is Integrated Waste Specialist for the City of Modesto, Calif.