News


Palo Alto scraps neighborhood trash experiment

City looks to link trash collection to broader plan for a waste-to-energy plant

A pilot program to reduce residents' trash and make the sorting of waste simpler has concluded, and the results, according to a staff report, were decidedly mixed.

The city last year experimented with trash carts in the Greenmeadow neighborhood, and a few others, where residents were asked to switch from using black (garbage), blue (recyclables) and green (yard waste) carts to a new system with only blue and green carts.

People placed both recyclable goods and landfill-bound trash in the blue bin, with the garbage bagged separately from the recyclables. The green cart took bagged yard trimmings and bagged food scraps. The black cart was eliminated.

The goals of the experiment, which the City Council's Finance Committee discussed Tuesday, was threefold: to divert more landfill-bound garbage into the compostibles bin; to lessen greenhouse gases by reducing the number of trips by trucks picking up and hauling the garbage; and to make the sorting of waste simpler and thereby changing people's behaviors.

Among the program's chief virtues was the fact that the city would, for the first time, collect compostable material like food and soiled paper separately from the rest of the waste stream, thereby reducing the amount shipped to a San Jose landfill.

The pilot appears to have succeeded with the first goal, with the average volume of trash heading to the landfill falling from 5.07 tons per week to 4.17 tons.

But the pilot also brought about a few surprising and unwelcome findings.

The city did far less well when it came to reducing the number of truck trips. The collection of blue carts on the pilot route could not be handled in just one trip. Making a second trip to the Charles Street material-recovery facility in San Jose added an extra hour of driving time, the program's summary report stated.

It also took longer to pick up the garbage and recyclables at the curbs. The study noted that before the experiment, only about 60 to 70 percent of households put out their blue carts in a given week, compared with nearly every household during the pilot. Instead of an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes, it took 9 hours and 31 minutes to complete the blue-cart route during the pilot.

As for the green carts, the pilot results suggested there was "virtually no change in the driving times, miles traveled, and fuel consumption for the green cart truck driver. However, this truck was only operated by one driver as opposed to two drivers prior to the pilot."

The third goal, simplifying things for residents, is where things really went sour. Many customers complained during the pilot about the requirement that garbage be bagged separately from recyclables and that food scraps and yard trimmings be similarly separated, the report stated.

Greenmeadow resident Bob Wachs told the Weekly on Wednesday that bagging the yard and food waste was the least pleasant part of the pilot, though he and his wife got used to putting their food scraps in the small household container the city provided.

"I found the little wastebasket kind of a pain. We kept trying to find a place for it. It got to be a bit of a joke. I kept stubbing my foot on it," he said.

The program increased the amount of material the Wachses composted, "but I don't think we became better at creating less garbage," he said.

Resident Lisa Steinback already practiced composting at home prior to the pilot, so she personally found the two-cart system less practical.

"I had a lot of recyclables, and they didn't fit into the blue toter. Adding another garbage bag on top, the cover couldn't close because the bin was overflowing," she said Wednesday.

Resident Penny Ellson said some people had a hard time finding the compostable bags.

"There was a lot of back and forth on the neighborhood email list," she said. Eventually, she discovered them at Costco, where she purchased a large quantity, and she saw them at Piazza's, she said.

According to the pilot report, the issue of bags "brought the ire of all residents." When asked in a midpoint survey to comment on their experiences with bags, 72 percent of 165 respondents provided additional commentary, with more than half having negative comments.

As for changing her behavior when it came to sorting the trash, Ellson said she was initially irritated, but she made a concerted effort and got the hang of it.

"As soon as I did .... I realized, 'Oh, this isn't so bad,'" she said.

Ellson's family of four reduced their landfill-bound trash to a single 13-gallon plastic bag. Before the pilot program, she probably tossed at least twice that much, she said.

In the end, 80 percent of residents who responded to the pilot program's final survey said they were willing to continue the pilot to help the city gather data, the summary notes.

Given the mixed results, the city no longer plans to spread the pilot program to other parts of the city. Instead, Public Works is proposing to gradually roll out new services, starting with the collection of food scraps. According to a report from the department, this could either mean bagging the food scraps separately or mixing them in with yard trimmings so that the two can be composted together.

Ultimately, the city plans to build an anaerobic-digestion plant in the Baylands that would process food scraps and sewage sludge and generate energy. The facility, part of the city's Organics Facility Plan, is still years away from becoming a reality, however.

Still, the new waste-to-energy plant poses a complication for the two-cart program. A report from Public Works noted that mixing residential food and yard trimmings together may prohibitively increase the cost of processing them.

While the Finance Committee didn't vote on the issue Tuesday night, members generally went along with staff's proposal that any reconsideration of trash carts be linked to the Organics Facility Plan. Councilman Marc Berman, who chairs the committee, told the Weekly that the city's thinking about organic waste has shifted in recent years and any citywide proposal to revamp the trash program should be coordinated with the new plan.

"We need to find out what kind of technologies we need to use out there (on the Baylands site) and get a little more details on that," Berman said. "That's going to have a lot of influence on what programs we roll out."

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2014 at 9:14 am

To reduce the number of cans put out, it would make sense to pay per number of times the can was put out. At present, it makes sense for residents to put the cans out each week regardless of how full it is. If it is only half full and we had to pay, then we would wait until next week. If we can't reduce our costs, then there is no incentive to reduce the number of times we put out a can.

This is basic dollars and sense.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2014 at 10:17 am

Putting greenwaste into compostible bags would drive the cost of waster disposal up by $20-$40 a month for some people. At the moment, these sorts of bags are not carried by grocery stores--as they are quite bulky.

Given the costs, it might pay for individuals with a lot of greenwaste to contract with a private gardner, or pickup firm, rather than deal with the alwsys less-than-helpful City of Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 7, 2014 at 10:24 am

Are there any private trash pick up service alternatives to the CIty? I just want to throw my trash in the trash


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not in Green Meadow
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Please stop reporting that this pilot program was in Green Meadow. Our neighborhood was forced to participate as well. We already compost at home, and because we do a lot of cooking, the tiny food scraps container was not useful for us and the result was a tiresome mess in our kitchen. We're all for better methods of dealing with household waste, but this test could have been thought out better. The inaccurate reporting that this took place in Green Meadow doesn't help.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by just to make things easier
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm


Palo Alto Weekly,

Greenmeadow doesn't have the best reputation right now so mixing in other neighborhoods with them can make people a little stressed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

Crescent Park had to do this too. All it did was save money for gardeners who used the cans instead of having to get rid of clippings/trimings/etc on their own!

Just another good intention that only made it harder for some and lined the pockets of others.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 7, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I thought this pilot program sounded awful and was thankful it wasn't tested out on our neighborhood.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm

The title needs a spell check.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Town Square Moderator
online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Jun 7, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

Thanks Anonymous. Fixed!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2014 at 7:40 pm

@ Sparty

Since Palo Alto closed the landfill, gardeners do not have a place to take the green waste that is economical, the green waste needs to be taken elsewhere; BFI in San Carlos,Zanker in San Jose, Smart station Sunnyvale ect...Sometimes it costs over $ 100 a load for a small pick up, plus gas, plus time. I know some gardeners in Palo Alto that charge $100 a month for weekly service,THIS IS NOT VERY MUCH MONEY. So what is wrong with putting the customers green waste in the green bin. It is not the gardeners green waste. it is the customers green waste. If you think the gardeners are getting rich you are sadly mistaken.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2014 at 10:18 pm

I have a genuine question to ask those who participated in this pilot.

Did you find that it was OK when it was just your family at home and harder when you had overnight guests or dinner guests?

We have had several houseguests who stayed in our home during the past few months as well as the fact that we often have guests for dinner when we cook from scratch and use all the help from guests that we can. It is almost impossible to monitor what guests put in the trash when helping in the kitchen and embarrassing for both hosts and houseguests to go through their trash.

With different locations having different rules, it is hard for everyone to sort trash and get it right.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2014 at 2:48 am

Sparty is a registered user.

"Since Palo Alto closed the landfill, gardeners do not have a place to take the green waste that is economical, the green waste needs to be taken elsewhere; BFI in San Carlos,Zanker in San Jose, Smart station Sunnyvale ect.."


Thank you for reiterating my point. Now please give us your list of people and their gardeners who were given a rebate on their weekly service because they no longer had to go to the dump. Don't have one?


"If you think the gardeners are getting rich you are sadly mistaken. "


Never said that, but refer back to your own post where you mention $100 per load for a small truck.

I guarantee the two (yes TWO) cans that are FILLED after the gardeners finish would fill up a small truck.

"So what is wrong with putting the customers green waste in the green bin. It is not the gardeners green waste. it is the customers green waste."

Hmm. What about restaurants? And stores? If people didn't buy things, there would be no bones, plastic, running water, grease, dirty towels... Maybe every time someone eats out, they should have to take home some of the restaurants trash and laundry. It IS their partial mess right?



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2014 at 3:01 am

Sparty is a registered user.

giving a rebate--not "given"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2014 at 8:33 am

@ Sparty,
So you are saying that you want the gardener to give a rebate. $25 a week for mow and blow. and you want the gardeners to give a rebate. Wow!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 8, 2014 at 11:07 am

Why does food waste (peelings, etc) need to be separated from yard waste? They are all plant materials. I've never understood that issue.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by sallie
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 8, 2014 at 11:40 am

All our kitchen organic waste (food scraps) is composted in our yard or eaten by our 4 hens. None of it is collected or exported. And we get fresh eggs. But the City hiked the licence fee to $60/year. Why discourage home sustainable home solution to waste management?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Our yard clippings go to Gilroy to be composted then sold to commercial growers in the Salinas Valley. They say it is not compatible. Think about it,
it is all about the money.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by another neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 9, 2014 at 11:27 am

Ours is a family where both spouses work full time, and we have a 5 year old. It has been very difficult to keep trash sorted - after 2 months of honest attempt, I gave up. I would rather have peace of mind, than hover over the kitchen sink every night after dinner, watching who is putting trash where.

I am glad they scrapped the program.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2014 at 11:36 am

I totally agree with the resident that suggested we pay by how many times we place our garbage bin out for pickup. I use the smallest bin and never have it more than 1/2 full. I have thought about NOT putting it out each week but figure since I am paying anyway - why not put it out. Maybe finding a way to pay per pickup is a better use of our tax money. With all the new hand-held computer devices and bar codes, I would think there might be a way to scan bins at the curb. I bet this would reduce trash.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I am grateful and surprised that the City/staff are ending a practice which
is opposed by residents, makes no sense, is counter-productve, is anti-environment. Let's hope this sets a precedent for City Hall in all the rest they are doing along these lines. But I doubt it- this is a one off event,
good on the margin for sure but no basis for any real hope of change in
what is going on here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not in Green Meadow
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jun 9, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Resident, I agree. Having people over during this experiment was awkward. I do not think it is gracious to stand over one's dinner guests barking out orders as they bring their plates to the kitchen. But having to sort through the jumble after they leave is a depressing end to the day. A better thought out trial would be welcome, as long as we had a say in when it was implemented would be fine with us, but we would appreciate something less sloppy, and also having a say about whether or not our neighborhood was included. Of course, accurate reporting by the Weekly would never go amiss.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 9, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Thank goodness the experiment is over. My garbage disposal was working overtime, grinding up our food scraps. Now we can go back to disposing of our garbage in a sensible manor.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stretch
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Geez, Jane, whose sensible house will you be dumping your garbage in? Oh, did you mean sensible MANNER? It's just too much, all this trouble to recycle, isn't it? In Sweden, they recycle 75%, and there's not all this complaining.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm

An Eichler goes for about $2,000,000, I guess it qualifies for a Manor.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Stretch, I believe we may have a higher diversion rate than Sweden.

www.recyclingcertification.org/certified-facilities/


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbors Helping Neighbors
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2014 at 3:39 pm

RE: 1. Separating Food Scrapes
2. Sallie-Adobe-Meadows, FEES FOR BACKYARD CHICKENS (increase ?)

Hi,
1. my husband and I have been separating food scrapes from other trash for 3 years now. It's been quite easy. We just set DIY container next to sink.
When we have company, we ask guests to use counter top compost bucket, blue kitchen bin for recyclables (I post a picture sign when out of town guests visit) and inform guests what goes in kitchen trash bin. Otherwise, bathrooms, bedrooms and living room office, we normally sort ourselves. All of our friends know we are ZWBLs and very mindful of separating refuse, so they expect that we expect them to be mindful of separating refuse when they come to visit.

2. Sallie, please contact us. You may be interested in the 2014 Silicon Valley Tour de Coop. Also, other coopsters and would be coopsters will want to be informed if license fees in Palo Alto for chickens have changed.
If Sallie doesn't see this message, I hope another neighbor will report this info to us, email NHN.SVTdC.2014@gmail.com

The Third annual Silicon Valley Tour de Coop, a free, self-guided bicycle tour of chicken coops, gardens, bee hives, hoop houses, and coolest Silicon Valley urban homesteads, is now happening on Sunday, September 21, 2014 from 9AM to 4 PM.

Click HERE to Register Now! Web Link

Kindly, Caryll-Lynn
Midtown 1983-2014

Posted by sallie, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 8, 2014 at 11:40 am
All our kitchen organic waste (food scraps) is composted in our yard or eaten by our 4 hens. None of it is collected or exported. And we get fresh eggs. But the City hiked the licence fee to $60/year. Why discourage home sustainable home solution to waste management?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Another hair brained liberal experiment by City Council. Do your job and do something about the lack of parking downtown, ruining California Street, decreasing the crime in downtown Palo Alto, and decreasing the traffic jam on El Camino from 3-6PM. Hint, hint- fewer new condos and apartments.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2014 at 9:44 pm

This was orchestrated By Zanker Greenwaste Whatever they want to call themselves. For Stanford grads. You guys should be much smarter.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2014 at 1:37 am

Bru is a registered user.

Bagged yard waste ... you have to be kidding me ... how idiotic.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2014 at 1:39 am

Bru is a registered user.

When people use the work liberal pejoratively with no basis in fact or point it is basically the same as hate speech and terrorism ... Jerry99's post should be deleted.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hywel from Wales
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 13, 2014 at 12:08 am

I read about this experiment in Diana Diamond's column in the Daily News. It sounded extremely impractical and time-consuming, messy, and filled with unforeseen consequences.

Obviously not well-thought-out or researched before being implemented as an experiment on Greenmeadow.

Thank heaven the experiment failed, but I feel for the poor residents who had to test out this disaster.


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