In an effort to comply with last year’s SB 1383, a law setting new state goals for cutting so-called “short lived” climate pollution from methane, soot and hydrofluorocarbons, Santa Clara has begun a pilot trash program that requires residents to separate food scraps from other trash and place it in a split-cart container for disposal, and recycling through Sustainable Alternative Feed Enterprises (SAFE) technology. SAFE processes food scraps into animal feed for non-ruminant animals.
On May 9, 2017 the City Council authorized the implementation of a pilot residential food scrap recycling program, similar to the pilot program rolled out in San Jose in 2015, implemented citywide in Sunnyvale and soon-to-be citywide in Milpitas in December of this year. Cities not complying with the new law can be fined up to $10,000 per day starting Jan. 1, 2022 for failure to abide by the new regulations.
“Staff recommended testing the split-cart container food scrap recycling program because it is the most cost-effective option and it would provide an opportunity for all customers with side-load cart garbage service to participate in the program,” said Santa Clara’s Deputy Director of Public Works Dave Staub. “The split-cart program doesn’t require an additional collection vehicle, or additional container. Food scrap processing costs are only paid on the food scrap portion of what is collected.”
Santa Clara’s pilot program began the week of Oct. 9 with two routes chosen by Mission Trail Waste Systems (MTWS) due to their mix of single-family homes and townhomes. Residents were not given the option to opt-out. They received a new, compartmented trash receptacles and scrap buckets and their old, larger trash capacity cans were removed. Santa Clara resident Elisa Christine Baublitz, who lives in an area of 95054 chosen to participate in the program, said she received a letter about a week before the can was dropped off and the new can was delivered with only a sticker taped to the top containing instructions on how to properly use it. The City, however, said that first outreach to residents was sent Aug. 14.
Calling the cans “horribly built” due to the nearly 50 percent of space dedicated to food waste, Baublitz said the first time her trash was picked up, the can broke. “How could you create something that’s going to break within the first year,” she said. “It’s like a cheaply-made toy.”
Baublitz, whose family includes her own child and a niece she watches, said her trash can was always filled to the brim each week and the new cans have made it difficult to find space for the bags of trash that no longer fit. “We have a little boy who goes through diapers like crazy,” she said. “I have a niece who goes through diapers like crazy.” She added, “We recycle; we compost. All of our scraps go to our chickens … For a family of four, you don’t have that many food scraps. It’s not enough to fill up that entire can. At most, there’s a bag’s worth at the bottom. It’s not beneficial to have an entire section of garbage [can] taken when you’re only putting in one bag of scrap.”
The reduced capacity combined with biodegradable liners residents are required to use to collect food scraps in the can’s accompanying bucket, have proven to be problematic for residents. The cans were delivered with a small roll of bags and residents were told it was their responsibility to purchase additional bags, or reuse the thin, plastic bags used when purchasing vegetables from the grocery store.
Cans lining local streets on trash days can often be seen overflowing with trash bags, bags placed on top of the can and the food scrap bucket, which, according to a video posted on the City’s website should remain within the home and washed out weekly, attached to the side. Many residents seem to be rejecting the new concept and the proposed increase in rates that is likely on the way.
“The disposal of garbage in landfills is less expensive than processing it to remove the organic material for recycling, composting or anaerobic digestion,” said Staub. “The best ways to reduce solid waste collection and disposal costs are to minimize the number of collection vehicles it takes to pick-up the material and minimize the amount of material that is subject to higher processing costs.
“One of the challenges in our upcoming surveys will be to determine program participants preferences to either pay lower garbage rates to source separate organic material [separation at discard] or pay higher garbage rates to not have to source separate organic material. Either way, the cost to provide solid waste collection services will rise significantly as we implement programs to meet the SB 1383 requirements.”
According to Staub the City will invest $871,000, or about $236,000 annually, over the course of the four-year program to purchase the carts, retrofit existing collection vehicles and develop outreach materials for the program. Additionally, the City will pay $75 per ton to have the scraps processed. The cost to implement the program citywide is not currently known and although there are other ways to meet SB 1383 requirements, including placing food scraps and food soiled paper in yard waste containers, having a separate container for organics and mixed waste processing of all garbage to remove organics with no separation required by residents—Staub said the current method is the most cost-effective and all options come with advantages and disadvantages.
The City has conducted a survey for residents participating in the program, but the results will not be released until the end of the month. A second survey is tentatively scheduled for May. The results of both surveys will be taken into consideration before City staff decides if the program will be implemented citywide.
“Staff has already observed that container capacity issues is something that would need to be addressed if we were to implement the split-cart food scrap recycling program citywide,” said Staub. “Possible changes include increasing the size of the carts or modifying the center divider in the carts and collection vehicle to reduce the amount of food scrap capacity and increase the amount of garbage capacity.”
With Thanksgiving and the remainder of the holiday season looming, residents are speaking out by calling City Hall and expressing their frustration on Nextdoor and the You Know You’re From Santa Clara Facebook page.
“The holidays are coming,” said Baublitz. “Where’s all that garbage going to go? … They call it a pilot program, but it isn’t a pilot program. You’re stuck with it for the next four years.”
For more information on the program, visit http://santaclaraca.gov/government/departments/public-works/environmental-programs/residential-garbage-recycling/residential-food-scrap-pilot-recycling-program.
If you would like to share your thoughts on this program, please email your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org for publication. Please include your name and phone number with your submission – phone numbers will not be published. Letters to the Editor should be limited to one hundred and fifty words.