03 May 2008

The Trash Compost Collector

What does San Francisco and Taipei have in common that is absent in the cities of Stockholm, New York, Boston, and Amherst? That's right; as stated in the title, a compost collector. The nuts and bolts of the programs are markedly different, though importantly, the processing of food scraps does occur.

In Taiwan, the ritual begins at home when food-stuff is deposited in a miscellaneous bucket which is constantly swarming with fruit flies. This bucket need only hold a days worth of scraps as every evening the sound of an Ice-Cream-Truck Tune fills the air, which in this country is the garbage truck arriving in your neighborhood. With little more than 30 seconds of notice, residents stream from their apartments to the street with small trash bags and the bucket full of organic waste. The trash is tossed in the usual garbage truck, with the food matter dumped into dual 100-gallon garbage cans which are riding side saddle. This food slop is then brought to a hog farm where it is used as feed.

During my time in Taiwan I recall seeing a person dump their food waste, liner plastic bag included, into this bucket at which point the Compost Collector raised their voice saying, "Do you think a pig wants to eat that?"

In San Francisco, the ritual begins much the same, though usually in a ubiquitous paper bag rather than a bucket. (In SF paper bags are ubiquitious because plastic ones are banned at the grocery check-out line, with the exception of biodegradable ones!) Once the paper bag is filled, stinky, or swarming with too many fruit flies, it is put in the green bin. As you can see on the right, the compost bin is just as large as the recycling and trash bin. One might think that the compost volume would be far less than the other two, though for me, an individual who eats healthy, (lots of fruits and veggies, less processed food which comes in boxes, tubs, jars, and plastic wrap)
I've found that the green one fills the quickest! (Side note: the recycling bin is a mix of both paper and plastic which is then sorted at the recycling plant.)

In 1989 AB939 was passed which mandated a 25% waste diversion from landfills by 1995, 50% by 2000, 75% by 2010 and by 2020 100% or specifically zero waste to landfills or incineration. In an 8 year period from 1995 to 2003 while waste increased 80% the tonnage to the landfill decreased slightly. I am not sure why this total volume increased so much, though if these numbers are to be believed, there seems to be some success in achieving the mandated goals. The study which looked at the eight year period is cited below in the graph.

The organic material collects in the green bins for the weekly pickup, along side allowed food contaminated trash like pizza boxes, milk containers, paper plates and any biodegradable bags, utensils, cups, or more.

In the pictures to the right, we see (1)the San Francisco skyline and "green" initiative, (2) the composting facility which is 60 miles from the city, and (3) the produced fertilizer being sprayed on wine country soil.

The conclusion that we can draw from Taipei and San Francisco is that composting is a viable third type of waste beyond the usual trash and recycling binary. The waste reduction is real which reduces volume going to the landfill. With landfill space being the valuable commodity it is today, we can conclude that: Any fiscally responsible city or town government should consider composting if only for potential monetary gains.

Images and program details for SF program found at: http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/composting/AlexaKielty.pdf

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article!!! I must get after my town to start composting. What an interesting and informative blog. This is my favorite blog. Keep up the good work.

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