Monday, June 5, 2017

Food Scrap Separation

A lot of discussion and emails over the Sunnyvale City Food Scraps Recycling program.  Below are some of my own thoughts followed by a message from the City Manager with links to the studies done and the previous council meetings and relevant documentation.  I will have more info later, but I wanted to get this out.  As far as I know there is no penalty for ignoring the food scrap program at this time but we will all need to change bins to the new duplex forms.

My Thoughts:

Some have said they generate very little in the way of food scraps and have asked if they can opt out and keep their old garbage bin.  In a word: No.  You don't have to put anything in the food scrap part of the duplex bin we will all be getting but you can't keep your old bin.

Having two types of garbage bins would be a logistical nightmare with two sets of garbage trucks cruising around - one of them picking up 2 out of 3 bins and the other picking up the other 1 out of 3. We'd need 16 garbage trucks instead of 8, and twice the number of people driving.  Click on images below to enlarge:

Mountain View has a nice video and diagram of how split bin trucks work.

My family of four generates a very small amount of food waste - 5 banana peels, 6 egg shells, 1/2 cup of coffee grounds - so if it seems a lot of trouble for very little, I sympathize.  However, most people generate a lot more.  I intend to go with food scrap recycling as intended even though we have very few food scraps. I encourage others to do so as well. We may take up composting instead. 

Coincidentally, New York City is just now implementing a food scraps recycling program as well, but they are recycling food into compost as San Francisco has been doing since 2009.  Composting has many positive environmental benefits and is discussed here:

More info on NYC's new composting program here:

An alternative view on compost and another option of anaerobic digestion and using captured methane as a fuel source is given here:

Some have complained about the feeding of waste food to animals as unhealthy.  The food is sterilized and compressed into pellets so the food is probably healthier than the normal "scraps" they might get.  There is more about it here in the FAQ:,RecyclingandWasteReduction/RecyclingServices/SingleFamily/FoodCycle.aspx

If you were thinking of becoming a vegetarian, the following article might move you in that direction:  What we now feed animals:

From the City Manager:

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Staff will be screening the emails to Council and responding on the City’s behalf when appropriate. Our practice is to respond to emails that seek more information. Emails that simply express an opinion (for or against) are for your information and staff does not typically respond. Councilmembers will be copied on all staff responses to emails directed to the Council Answer Point.

Program History

The City Council has taken several actions on this program, as listed below:

In December 2008, Council approved the Zero Waste Policy (RTC 08-358, Council Policy 3.2.4).

On April 23, 2013, Council adopted the Zero Waste diversion goal of 75% by 2020, among other actions.

To assure market outlets for both the commercial and residential food scraps collection programs, on January 5, 2016, Council approved multi-year contracts with facilities that would accept and recycle the materials collected by those programs. (RTC 15-1075)

On September 20, 2016, Council reviewed the results of the pilot program conducted in 2015 and approved Citywide implementation of the residential split-cart/split-truck program. (RTC 16-0844)

About the Program

The primary reason the City is targeting food scraps relates to the fact that, when disposed in a landfill, food is decomposed by anaerobic bacteria that produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Whether it escapes directly from the landfill into the atmosphere or is converted to carbon dioxide when burned in a flare or power generation process, creation of this methane adds carbon to the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

The City has set Zero Waste goals tied to Policy 3.2.4. The goal currently is to divert 75% of generated waste from disposal by the year 2020. The most recent official state measure of Sunnyvale diversion was 65% in 2015. The Zero Waste Strategic Plan identifies food scraps as by far the largest remaining item Sunnyvale residents are disposing in their garbage carts. A waste characterization conducted for the City by Cascadia Consulting Group found that food scraps made up 33% of the garbage collected from single-family residences. No other single component was higher than 6.5%. The City is already providing food scraps collection service to a growing number of businesses, schools, etc. as it implements the AB 1826 mandate for commercial organics separation.

The 500+ home pilot program conducted in 2016 was effective in gaining high levels of resident participation (73%) and capture of available food scraps (62%). Based on this success, Council approved a Citywide rollout of food scraps service, which is now scheduled to begin in September 2017.  This first phase will provide the new service to single-family homes, duplexes, tri-plexes and mobile homes. (The start of service to apartments (4+ units) that use garbage cart service and the approximately 300 commercial garbage cart customers will be done after the single-family service is up and running.) Based on the pilot results, staff anticipates that at full implementation to the new service will increase single-family diversion by about 4,000 tons per year.

The City and Specialty uses a split cart/split truck system to collect recyclable paper and containers in a single container. Using the same split cart/split truck technology to pick up garbage and food scraps with a single truck allows the City to separately collect the food scraps without increasing the number of trucks and carts in use. This keeps the cost of providing food scraps collection at a modest level and does not increase wear and tear on streets from collection truck traffic.

To keep down the cost of the pilot program, it used retired recycling carts with a 50/50 split. Staff knew, going in, that 50/50 was not the garbage/food ratio for a permanent service, but using carts in hand saved time and money while allowing a good test of resident acceptance of this new behavior. Following the pilot, the cart and truck vendors worked with Specialty to test prototype cart dimensions and came up with cart dimensions that made the garbage portions of the three new cart designs as large as possible without allowing garbage to contaminate the food compartment of the truck. It is worth noting that the City of San Jose is also testing split cart food collection in a pilot area of approximately 6,000 homes.

Residents will continue to use their current black garbage carts until their service route is converted to the new service. Rollout will be at a measured pace to allow staff the time to answer questions about how to use the new service, troubleshoot issues in the field, etc. The pilot showed that separating food from other garbage is a big, sometimes deeply personal change for some residents that can require a good deal of communication.

Current Status
Based on the approved program, equipment orders are on schedule. Specialty Solid Waste and Recycling, the City’s franchised hauler, has placed orders for the split-body trucks and split carts needed to implement the new program. Six of the eight truck chassis (seven route trucks plus one spare) have been delivered to the vendor that installs the truck bodies, fuel tanks, etc. The other two chassis are being assembled and are expected to arrive any day. Cart lids and dividers are currently being produced by the manufacturer with production of the cart bodies scheduled to begin June 2.

Please continue to share any input that you receive from our residents.  It is important for us to track the patterns/trends in the input to inform services, potential program changes, or any additional policy action that we may need to advance to the City Council.  Please let me know if you have any questions.
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