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Garbage hauler proposes compost operation for Sonoma

For years, the solid waste hauler Sonoma Garbage Collectors has picked up the city of Sonoma’s trash and green waste for transfer to the county-owned central landfill west of Cotati, where yard trimmings are composted.

The hauler now wants to build its own composting facility in Sonoma Valley to process not only the city’s yard waste but also an assortment of food scraps that would include meats and dairy. The move would divert at least 8 tons of green waste a day from the county’s embattled compost operation, which neighbors have been trying to shut down, advancing complaints about odor and runoff polluting a nearby creek. They filed a federal lawsuit three months ago after the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency decided to keep open the 25-acre compost operation it oversees as it searches for a new site.

John Curotto Sr., president of Sonoma Garbage Collectors, said his family company sees an opportunity to add services for Sonoma customers.

While the county landfill does compost vegetables, it doesn’t take meats or dairy products, such as cheese, according to Ken Wells, a solid waste consultant who was hired to help the Curottos open their facility. That’s discouraged some businesses and residents from recycling food scraps, he said.

“Because there is a limit, that gets a lot of people to hesitate,” Wells said.

The proposed facility would take all food scraps instead of burying them in the landfill, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Wells, who served as executive director of the county’s waste management agency when it opened its composting operation in 1993.

The Sonoma waste hauler contends that a local composting operation would limit cross-county truck traffic, eliminating loads of green waste to the central landfill.

The Curottos are looking at a couple of sites in Sonoma Valley. “It’s going to keep it local,” said Wells, who would not provide further details about the sites being considered for the facility.

He said the operation would have “zero discharge,” meaning that water that touches the compost would not run off the property.

“What we’re proposing is so small,” he said. “We’re talking about a half-acre of material.”

Before it could move ahead with seeking the proper permits and nailing down a site, the company requested support from the Sonoma City Council.

Last week, council members agreed to look at extending the city’s hauling contract with Sonoma Garbage Collectors for an additional 10 years, until 2027. The extension agreement is contingent on the compost facility being built within three years. Council members plan to vote on the extension later this month. It would ensure the company has the food and yard waste to move forward with the plan, City Manager Carol Giovanatto said.

“They’re putting an investment out there,” she said.

The city of Sonoma’s hauling contract with Sonoma Garbage Collectors makes it an anomaly among local governments. The county’s eight other cities and the County of Sonoma all have hauling contracts with the Ratto Group of Companies, the dominant local waste contractor.

Wells said it’s unclear how much the Sonoma facility would cost to build and how long would take to secure the permits. He voiced hope that it could be up and running as soon as next fall, though the regulatory process alone could easily take that long, judging by the county’s years-long search and study for a new compost site.

Sonoma Garbage Collectors serves about 4,000 residential and 250 commercial customers.

Sonoma represents such a small amount of the solid and green waste that goes into the central landfill that county officials don’t anticipate it would have a significant impact on their operations.

“They’re one of our smaller cities,” said Susan Klassen, the county’s transportation and public works director.

Overall, about 325 tons of material are brought in a day to compost at the central landfill, said Henry Mikus, executive director of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency.

Curotto said he wants to bag the compost to then sell it at local home-improvement and gardening stores.

Councilwoman Laurie Gallian said it’s an exciting opportunity with residents now more focused on growing their own vegetables. She said the compost could be used in those gardens.

“This is an incredible idea,” Gallian said.

Councilman Steve Barbose, who sits on the county’s Waste Management Agency board, agreed.

“We’re going to be able to say when we use that compost in our yards ‘we helped make this,’” he said. “That’s fantastic.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.?gonzalez@press?democrat.com.

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