For residents of Palo Alto's Greenmeadow neighborhood, the routine chore of putting out black trash bins for Wednesday's garbage pickup took on added significance this week.
That's because today was the last time that these traditional trash bins will make an appearance in the south Palo Alto neighborhood for the next year. Starting next week, the black bins will be replaced in Greenmeadow with ones that are, appropriately, green.
The neighborhood and nearby apartment buildings were recently chosen by the city for a yearlong pilot project that shatters the traditional waste-disposal paradigm in which residents separate recyclable waste from the landfill-bound variety. Now, instead of weighing whether something is recyclable, Greenmeadow residents will consider whether it's organic. If so, it would go in a green bin and head toward the Z-Best facility for sorting and composting. Otherwise, it would go in the blue bin and shipped to the Sunnyvale Material Recovery and Transfer (SMaRT) Station, where recyclable goods would be separated from everything else.
The City Council had approved the project in January but it was only in recent weeks that the Public Works Department identified the area in and near Greenmeadow as the pilot area. The neighborhood's location had a lot to do with it. The city was looking for an area that is sufficiently isolated from other neighborhoods to avoid confusion among neighbors using the traditional model and those participating in the pilot project. Because Greenmeadow is bounded by San Antonio Road on the south (which separates it from Mountain View) and by the softer barriers of Middlefield Road and Alma Street, it fulfilled this criteria better than other neighborhoods, said Phil Bobel, assistant director of Public Works.
"The more isolated it is, the better because they we don't get confusion around the edges with neighborhoods comparing notes and not understanding why it's different for them," Bobel said.
It also helps that Greenmeadow has an active neighborhood association with a swimming pool and a manager who could aid with coordination. And that it is one of the few areas where truck routes for pickup of trash, recycling and yard trimmings are pretty much the same and would need minimal adjustments, Bobel said.
Feedback from the neighborhood also played a part. More people from Greenmeadow than from other neighborhoods expressed a willingness to try the change, Bobel said. The presence of nearby apartment buildings also aided in the selection process. Multi-family residence present different challenges for the city's trash-pickup services than single-family homes and would thus provide the city with additional information during the pilot period, which will last a year.
The city has already held two public meetings on the pilot project and will hold two more this week (one tonight and another on Saturday). So far, the turnout has been decent, Bobel said. About 75 people showed up to the initial meeting and another 40 to the second. Bobel said there were a few skeptics in the initial hearing, though most people didn't oppose the plan once they understood the changes that will be made.
"By the end, we think almost everyone understood it and was willing to try to make the pilot work," Bobel said.
On Monday, residents received "tool kits" with detailed instructions about what type of trash goes where,'compostable bags and buckets that would be lined with these bags and used for organic waste such as food scraps and yard trimmings, Bobel said. The program includes a grace period. If someone forgets about the switch and puts out a black cart next week, the city will pick it up and leave in its stead a gentle reminder about the pilot program, Bobel said.
The City Council approved the pilot program in January, making Palo Alto the first city in the Bay Area to switch to the green-and-blue model. The goals of the experiments are to increase diversion from landfills (and bring the city closer to the goals of its Zero Waste program), to reduce the number of garbage trucks going through the city, to simplify waste sorting for residents and to evaluate the potential cost savings associated with the switch.