Green-waste options mulled for Santa Rosa apartment dwellers
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.