Carole Carpenter always felt funny about throwing thousands of pounds of used coffee grounds into the garbage.
The manager of the popular Railroad Square cafe A’Roma Roasters knew the rich brown granules made a great soil fertilizer, a fact she was reminded of whenever customers asked if they could take some home to sprinkle in their gardens.
“It seems like such a waste to just throw them in the garbage,” said Carpenter, who has managed the operation for 20 years.
But with limited kitchen space, no simple way to set the coffee grounds aside for gardeners, and no green bin to dispose of them in, Carpenter just did what was easiest - she told employees to toss them in the dumpster along with all the cafe’s other food waste.
So Celia Furber, the “waste zero” manager with Recology, the city’s new garbage hauler, and John LaBarge, a Recology waste zero specialist, sat down with Carpenter last week to see if they could find ways to help the eatery keep more food waste out of the landfill.
It turns out that A’Roma Roasters should have been composting its food waste since Jan. 1, 2017.
That’s when businesses that create more than 4 cubic yards of organic waste a week were required under AB 1826 to begin diverting it from landfills. Larger producers were required to start a year earlier.
But the city’s previous hauler, The Ratto Group, did not make it easy to set up the service, Furber said.
That’s something Recology officials are finding as they roll out service under a new contract in Santa Rosa and take over existing Ratto Group contracts in Sonoma and north Marin County.
“We’re finding lots of businesses that wanted the service but it was just really hard to set up with the Ratto Group,” Furber said.
Six months after Recology took over Ratto operations, the San Francisco-based hauler has been making a concerted effort to keep organic material out of commercial and residential garbage streams that flow into the local landfill.
Santa Rosa residents are receiving green kitchen scrap pails with their new green bins, as well as detailed instructions about what can go in them. Customers in the six other cities that Recology serves, as well as the unincorporated areas of the county, are also receiving the educational brochures. The goal is to drive home the point to customers that they not only can but should be putting a wide range of kitchen scraps into their green bins.
The green bins aren’t even being called yard waste bins any more, but are now referred to as compost bins.
That roasted chicken carcass? Throw it in with the lawn clippings. Those greasy pizza boxes and dirty napkins? Toss them in with the leaves and branches. Banana peels, egg shells, dairy products, tea bags, small bits of untreated lumber, and yes, coffee grounds. They all can now go in the green bins.
The change was made after Sonoma Compost shut down 2½ years ago and the county began hauling green waste out of the county to other compost facilities that accepted kitchen scraps, explained Patrick Carter, executive director of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency.
“A lot of people don’t know that they can put food waste of any kind in their bin and they have been able to do that for a while,” Carter said.
The difference now is that Recology is putting more resources into education, Carter said. Where Ratto had three people for all of its 11 contracts in Sonoma and Marin counties, Recology has nine.
Much of that effort is focused on expanding the commercial food waste diversion program, managed under a separate contract between Sonoma County and Republic Services, which operates the landfill.
Republic outsourced the work to Ratto, but the tonnage was “rather low,” Carter said. Recology appears committed to a dramatic expansion of that program, he said.
“I think they’ll up those numbers significantly,” Carter said.
That’s more important now than ever, given that debris from the October wildfires is estimated to have filled up three years worth of landfill space, Carter said.
Leslie Lukacs, a recycling specialist with SCS Engineers in Santa Rosa and an organizing member of the Compost Coalition of Sonoma County, said huge strides in diversion can be made by keeping more organic waste out of the landfill, and Recology seems on board with that mission.
“I think it’s great for the county that we have a hauler who has experience working with communities to divert a high percentage of organics and other forms of recycling,” Lukacs said.
In 2014, a study she performed of landfill material showed 33 percent to be compostable, she said.
While people have had the ability to put kitchen waste in the green bin for more than two years now, they still haven’t sufficiently been encouraged to take advantage of it, she said. Recology’s new education program is heartening to her.