Green-waste options mulled for Santa Rosa apartment dwellers

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When Carlos Calzontzi lived in Chico, he and his wife had a little house with a garden and a compost pile where he would throw most of his kitchen scraps.

It felt good to return those nutrients back to the Earth and fertilize the soil to help grow vegetables for his family.

But when the retired city maintenance worker relocated last year to Santa Rosa to be closer his kids and grandkids, he moved into an apartment complex that at the time had no green-waste disposal option. The Coddingtown Mall Apartments, like most apartment complexes in the county, provided its 230 units with garbage and recycling service, but no bins for organic waste.

So he threw his leftover avocado pits, unused vegetable chunks and bread scraps into the garbage, where they went to the landfill.

“We felt bad because we knew all of that could be used in the garden,” Calzontzi said. “We care about the Earth.”

Organic material makes up about 34 percent of the material that Californians throw into landfills every year, according to a 2014 study by CalRecycle, the state waste management agency.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a 2014 law meant to improve organic recycling efforts, in part by requiring businesses like restaurants and food processors to have an organic waste program. But multi-family apartment complexes were exempted from the law.

Some cities including, San Francisco, require all apartments to have green-waste disposal options for their residents. But most cities, including Santa Rosa, don’t have such mandates.

So the burden of encouraging apartment owners and managers to provide such options is falling to garbage companies, in particular Recology, the San Francisco-based garbage firm that took over waste collection across most of Sonoma County last year.

Recology’s recycling teams have so far focused their composting efforts on commercial sites, such as restaurants, hospitals and food processors, as well as schools, explained Celia Furber, zero waste manager for Recology’s Marin and Sonoma division.

There are signs the efforts are paying off. The company kept more than 8,000 tons of organic waste from Santa Rosa out of the landfill in the second quarter of this year, up from about 7,000 tons in the first quarter, Furber said.

But the state has just three years, until 2021, to cut its organic waste stream to half of 2014 levels, so more work needs to be done.

When Recology rolled out new garbage bins to single-family residences in Santa Rosa earlier this year, they included small green plastic pails and encouraged residents to collect kitchen scraps in them and throw the contents into their green bins.

That has been trickier to pull off at apartment complexes, explained Anita Migliore, a zero waste specialist who has worked with Recology for two decades.

Apartment owners or managers aren’t always willing to expand their garbage enclosures — which often compete with parking spaces — to include green bins. Others are worried about pests and vermin.

The turnover in apartment dwellers also requires a more regular education program, she said. And someone has to be responsible for cleaning out a bin that can get nasty if no one is responsible for cleaning it.

“Some people can’t get over the ick factor,” Migliore said.

Unlike garbage bins and recycling cans, the green bins with kitchen scraps need to be regularly washed out so they don’t stink, she said.

That can fall to the property manager or a resident who cares enough about composting to want to see the program succeed, Migliore said.

“It really does take someone on site to oversee it and to make sure that people are educated, and even to be willing to reach in there if someone has thrown in a sweater or garbage or something else that’s not compostable,” she said.

A study by the city of Santa Rosa several years ago estimated that of the 67,000 housing units in the city, about 12,000 were apartments, translating to at least 30,000 apartment dwellers in the city.

Most, perhaps 90 percent, do not yet have a food waste option, Migliore said. But a number of complexes have begun testing organic waste programs, including the Coddingtown Mall Apartments. Some residents had installed their own small compost tumblers on their porches, so there was clearly an interest in providing the service, said Harry Brown, one of the property managers. They’ve handed out the pails and tried to educate residents, but it’s slow going.

“People are using it, but not as much as we would like them too,” Brown said.

The 96-gallon green bin on the property doesn’t even fill up in a week, he said.

One fan is Miki Sposeto. The 82-year-old lives alone and doesn’t create much food waste to begin with. But she dutifully fills her little compost pail often with egg shells, potato peels and melon rinds, and makes the extra trip to the green bin every week, more if she wants to clean out the pail sooner.

“I was raised on a farm in Idaho, and we always did this kind of stuff,” Sposeto said. “I think it’s great.”

A few minutes later, Calzontzi walked past with a salad bowl full of vegetable scraps. He lifted up the lid and heaved the contents in. That’s when he shared about his home and garden in Chico.

“I have grandchildren, and I want to leave them a healthy Earth,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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