News

In its war on waste, city takes aim at residents' food scraps

Palo Alto's new efforts to boost composting and recycling will increase rates

A proposal by Palo Alto officials to reduce the amount of trash heading to the landfill could soon bring a new service to city residents and a new composting requirement for local businesses.

In the latest offensive in its war on waste, the city is preparing to launch a program that officials have been mulling for years: the collection of food scraps from residents. Under the proposal that the City Council's Finance Committee is scheduled to consider on Tuesday night, the food scraps would be commingled with yard trimmings in green bins and picked up by the city's hauler, GreenWaste of Palo Alto. The organic waste would then travel to the Sunnyvale Material and Recovery Transfer (SMaRT) Station for sorting before making its way to a regional composting facility.

The city expects the new food-scraps collection program to divert about 3,000 tons from landfills annually, helping the city achieve its goal of having "zero waste" going to landfills by 2021. (More than half of the material placed in residential garbage -- 5,000 tons -- is compostable, according to a city report.)

If the council approves the program, every single-family home in Palo Alto will receive a kitchen pail that would be used to keep food scraps indoors until they are dumped into the green yard-waste collection bin. Acceptable items include spoiled food and scraps such as banana peels, apple cores, meat, bones, egg shells and soiled paper.

In a parallel effort aimed at achieving the same goal, the city is preparing an ordinance that would direct commercial customers to recycle and compost. Modeled after similar regulations in San Francisco, Oakland, Vancouver, Portland, New York and Seattle, the ordinance would require every customer to subscribe to both the recycling and the composting services offered by the trash hauler, along with the garbage pick-up. Currently, most commercial customers have the recycling service, but only 477 of 1,615 commercial accounts have been using the composting service.

Under the proposed ordinance, commercial customers would be required to properly sort their trash into the garbage, recycling and composting carts, according to a staff report. If any cart has more than 10 percent of contamination (material that belongs in a different cart), a notification tag will be placed on the cart. A second violation would lead to a letter and a phone call from GreenWaste staff, inquiring whether training is needed. A third violation, as well as all subsequent ones, would require a "solid waste processing fee," with the amount yet to be determined.

Under the current proposal, the mandatory service would launch for all food-service establishments and for the city's large commercial customers (those that generate 8 cubic yards or more of garbage weekly) in April 2016. In January 2017, the program would expand to include commercial customers generating at least 2 cubic yards of garbage per week. It would then expand to the rest of the commercial customers in January 2018.

Both the new service for residents and the new requirement for businesses seek to address one problem that Palo Alto officials have encountered in their energetic quest for greener trash practices: After significantly increasing landfill diversion between 1995 and 2010, progress has largely stalled in the last few years. According to a report from the Public Works department, the diversion rate went from about 40 percent in 1995, to 60 percent in 2005, to around 80 percent in 2010. Since 2010, however, the diversion rate has remained mostly constant, even dipping to 78 percent in 2013.

Meanwhile, the city's decision to collect commercial compostables has resulted in more than 11,000 tons of waste being diverted from landfills and composted annually since 2011.

Now, staff is proposing to renegotiate the city's contract with its hauler, GreenWaste, and add programs that would restore momentum to the council's plan to achieve the "zero waste" goal that it adopted in 2005.

"If the city is to reach its 2021 zero waste (to landfills) goals, then more aggressive program activities will be needed to 'jump-start' the city's diversion rate," the Public Works report states. "Staff has identified that the largest diversion opportunity in the garbage is compostable organics -- food scraps and food soiled paper, which constitutes over 40 percent of the current garbage stream."

A study that the city performed in 2012 suggested that both the commercial and the residential sectors have tons of room for improvement. The Waste Characterization Report indicated that more than half of the material placed in residential garbage (5,000 tons) is compostable and about a quarter is recyclable. In the commercial sector, about 40 percent of the material found in trash was compostable and 25 percent was recyclable.

By adding the new regulations, the city aims to "divert and recover" between 7,000 and 8,000 tons more compostable refuse. This would raise the diversion rate from 78 percent to 82 percent, according to staff, giving the city a rate higher than most other cities' in the United States.

These changes would, however, come at a cost. The new composting programs, according to staff, would add about $1.3 million annually to the city's agreement with its trash hauler. The higher cost would mean higher rates for residents: up by 9 percent on July 1 and then by 8 percent in each of the next two years, under a preliminary proposal from Public Works. This means that residents who currently rely on 20-gallon "mini-cans" will see their rates go up from the current level of $22.29 to $28.49 over the three-year period, a 28 percent increase. Those who use the standard 32-gallon cans would see their rates go up from $40.14 to $51.29 over the three-year period (also a 28 percent hike). Commercial rates would remain steady for the time being.

The new residential composting program would be significantly different from the experimental two-cart pilot program that the city launched in the Greenmeadow neighborhood last year. That program eliminated the black garbage cart entirely and had all residents sort their disposables into blue and green carts. The new citywide program, by contrast, would use all three carts.

In reviewing the results from the pilot program, city officials gave it mixed grades. Though the program succeeded in diverting compost from landfills, it led to confusion among residents and some resentment about having to pay for plastic bags in which to place their compostable scraps. Under the new program, residents could either bag their organic waste or place it loose in the green bin.

At a June 3, 2014, meeting, Matt Krupp, the city's solid-waste administrator, told the council's Finance Committee that Public Works is "committed to bringing residential food-scrap collection to the City of Palo Alto by July 1, 2015." The proposed program, according to the report, would be consistent with those in cities such as Menlo Park, San Francisco, San Mateo, Redwood City, Atherton, Berkeley and Oakland.

"We believe we need to get the standard up to other Bay Area cities," Krupp said. "There will be impact to ratepayers, but we believe it's an important way for us to reach our 'zero waste' and our diversion goals."

Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 8:02 am

Can we opt out? My food scraps already go to the chickens.


7 people like this
Posted by S
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 9:31 am

Isn't that the purpose of our free compost bins?


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 9:36 am

The best improvement would be to completely overhaul the system. We need to be able to have some choices in how we use our service. Instead of telling us what to do all the time, let us choose how often we use the service and pay accordingly.

Please let us have some chips on our cans with a chip reader on the garbage trucks that records which address the can is from and then charge us for the amount of times we use the pickup.

At present I often put out a half filled can which could wait another week before being picked up. If I am away on vacation I still have to pay. It would make sense for all of us if we could choose how often we use the pickup. It would be cheaper for greenwaste also as they would get through the routes much quicker if they had less pickups. As a result they could have longer routes and less expenses.

I am not inclined to do what they want if they can't improve the efficiency of their service by giving us options on how to reduce our costs.

I used to sort our recycles, now I just dump them together. This seems to be a step backwards. Now putting rotten food out to encourage vermin to our green cans sounds like a rotten idea to me. I will continue to put anything that may attract vermin to our trash in plastic bags. Otherwise I can see green cans being tipped and spilt by raccoons. Raccoons are a big problem with our trash already - please don't make it worse.


3 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 27, 2015 at 10:36 am

@ Anonymous: I don't think the idea is to MAKE you put the scraps in the bin but to ENABLE you to do so. Go chickens!


8 people like this
Posted by allen edwards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2015 at 10:44 am

Can I opt out and just use my neighbors bin when they are not looking? Or perhaps the bins at the park. I could always use the extra money for a bit more beer. PS. I have been told that when posting online like this it is appropriate to end with a combination of characters: semi-colon, dash, right parenthesis so that people don't get the wrong idea.


16 people like this
Posted by equitable-billing encourages recycling
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 27, 2015 at 10:55 am

I agree completely with "Resident". We are a high-tech community which should easily be able to track our bin usage with embedded chips for appropriate billing. Some of us are better recyclers than others and one billing rate should not fit all. As a chicken keeper in Palo Alto since 1976, my solution has decidedly been low-tech as chickens are happy to eat everything considered food waste. They will also process most green waste, keeping it out of the green bin and giving you lovely compost in return.
Our household of 6 takes a month to generate enough "real" garbage to put a 15 gallon can out but yet we're charged the flat rate for a weekly pick-up like everyone else. PLEASE, let's consider equitable billing; THAT'S what will encourage recycling.


7 people like this
Posted by Nanny State
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 11:02 am

This idea is too controlling. If this is implemented I'll just throw my garbage in my neighbors bins or in commercial bins around town. You can't make people do this extreme form of recycling. We have a bunch if zealots in charge.


5 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 27, 2015 at 11:19 am

The green bags we were supplied with and can buy at Costco are terrible. They leak and in general are a mess.
Here's a better choice at the dreaded Wal-Mart, "Bag to Nature," made in Canada. Sorry I didn't find these sooner.
Kudos to Public Works for proposing the change to a simple container, the contents of which can be dumped into the green can.


12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 27, 2015 at 11:50 am

I thought that's what we were already doing.

I am SO tired of PA Utilities and its constant rate hikes. I rarely use the 3 bins I pay for each week.

ENOUGH with the rate increases and the incessant mailings and preaching and competitive usage apps. How about some plain old vanilla cost-effective service?


2 people like this
Posted by "Nanny State?" Not so much.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 11:58 am

My grandmother who raised children through the depression taught me to carefully husband resources and clean up after myself. Our landfill is FULL. Our garbage is being carted to OTHER communities. Grandma taught me to compost at home. It's really not hard or time consuming at all.

I'm glad the city is offering an option to people who don't know how to compost or can't (maybe because they live in apartments).

The city is schlepping your waste anyway...and they already have existing procedures for sorting waste (a necessary part of any waste hauling service today-- whether public or private). This isn't Nanny state stuff, it is just a change in procedure. This is about helping the city take care of OUR waste responsibly. Stop whining, as my grandma would say, and clean up your mess.


8 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

Here we go again with multiple sorting and recycling nonsense. The answer is straight-forward, using 21st century technology: Plasma arc thermal destruction of all organic molecules, with inorganic materials going to slag. All the toxins are destroyed, the volume reduction is at least 95% and the industrial footprint is relatively small. As important, we would not need to sort anything! And let's not forget all that electricity that will be generated.

When will Palo Alto join the 21st century?


6 people like this
Posted by Barb
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:20 pm

What's wrong with using the garbage disposal?? Yes, of course, does anyone ADMIT to using them any longer! Aren't we all tired of being told what to do and how to do it??


8 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

What's next, a "honey pot" 5 gallon sealable bucket for human waste, so as to save water?

It's so in parts of Alaska.

Here, what galls me is that no matter how much I conserve, compost, etc, the CPAU bill goes up.

Directly or indirectly, it's all about the SEIU benefits and pensions.




9 people like this
Posted by not joe the plumber
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:47 pm

My wife asks why it has taken so long for Palo Alto to have composting service when most of the surrounding cities do. I guess it is because there are so many whiners who think everything that government does is somehow an invasion of their right to do whatever the hell they please and don't ask them to pay for the things that make this country and city great.


2 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2015 at 1:02 pm

This is better than that odd experiment which, thankfully, did not include my neighborhood.
Does one take the mini-bucket of kitchen scraps and then dump that into the big green yard waste bin? Or does one place the mini-bucket out by the street also? Sorry for this minor question. I support composting, but some of us don't have the appropriate place in our yards.
One issue I have had is sometimes others place things in our bins out by the street. I have discovered this upon occasion over the past X years. I do not place the bins out early. One neighbor who has a small bin has asked to do this, and I okayed it for them, but a man who was renting across the street several years back used our trash bins a few times, to my annoyance, as I discovered. As a matter of fact, one time he made my trash bin over-filled. So there can be a problem with people, including those walking dogs along the sidewalk, casually tossing "whatever" into whichever bins they come by, and THEN the garbage people reprimanding us inaccurately when the wrong item(s) are in the wrong bin(s).


1 person likes this
Posted by Mry
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2015 at 1:31 pm

I already do my own composting using a free bin from the CPA. Why should I have to pay when I won't be dumping it in the large green bin?Bz6Ay


3 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 27, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Why can't we just put the food scraps in with the yard waste? Last time I checked, food could be grown in yards.


2 people like this
Posted by Nanny State
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 2:13 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Not a millionaire
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 27, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Composting is fine with me. I will do it if they want us to.

However, the constant raising of rates, using the slightest pretexts, is really bothersome, not to mention more and more unaffordable for those who are not tech millionaires.


3 people like this
Posted by Kelly
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2015 at 2:29 pm

I agree with Craig Laughton. He is forward looking with 21st century technologies. He shows real leadership in our time. Why does our city council look backward, instead of forward?


8 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 3:22 pm

[Portion removed.] I absolutely object to paying 25% increase in trash fees, as I do the increase in other utility rate increases. [Portion removed.]

If we want less trash going to landfill, stop approving new apartment buildings and hotels. The council forgets "more people = more trash, and the Palo Alto residents dont want any more people moving into the city and clogging up the streets, especially El Camino and Alma.

This nonsense has got to stop, it probably comes from hiring more city workers to think of new ways to spend money and make the city more crowded.

[Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2015 at 5:54 pm

I have been composing for 20 years. No food scraps here, they are dirt in my garden. I want a way to opt out of the composing charge. But let me tell you what is in my black can. Pet waste, cat box litter and dog cr*p. Got a solution for that??? And how about a mini, mini can at a mini mini mini price? No probably not, if we reduced our waste to zero they would have to raise the rates to infinity to support the utilities department...


5 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Would there be any interest here in a private trash pickup service, single bin, ~$25/mo, weekly pickup, put anything in it?


3 people like this
Posted by infavorbutnofeehike
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Often our mini can is less than half full. We are doing a good job of recycling. Shouldn't our garbage rates be reduced?

I am interested in composting and am thinking about doing this myself. If people compost in their gardens, then shouldn't they get a reduction in utilities costs?

And, if our Utilities needs to raise rates, why is the city able to raid utilities? Sounds to me like we have been over paying utilities for years.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 27, 2015 at 6:49 pm

It's so ironic that when PA Utilities raises rates, they usually tell us we're not using enough water, electricity etc. or aren't generating enough trash.

Total disincentive to conserve.

On your next trash pickup day, do your own survey and see how few homes have put out all 3 bins.

We're getting ripped off for services we don't use.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Palo Alto Hills

on Feb 27, 2015 at 7:25 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


3 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 27, 2015 at 8:38 pm

I am getting confused about what we are suppose to be doing here. The activity above is limited to only a portion of the city? I haven't been given any other instructions or special bags.

I have been putting food waste in the green container though that waste is limited to orange peels, etc. A lot of flying bugs appear if this is left more than a week.

If this is an experiment then what is the plan? Also, I have a compost bin where dead leaves are composting. We need something that states what the end goal is here.


5 people like this
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 28, 2015 at 6:48 am

I'm getting tired of the constant price increases. I travel a lot and I'm only home 7 months a year, yet I pay collection fees for twelve months. We need a way to pay only when the service is used.


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2015 at 7:15 am

@Neal, thank you for subsidizing our police and fire services, schools, streetlight illumination, parks, libraries, etc for all those months you aren't in town. We should give you a break on trash.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wait a minute
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2015 at 8:01 am

The city has stated previously, several times, that the compost bins are NOT for food scraps!


Like this comment
Posted by Garbage
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2015 at 8:54 am

Here is the deal, There is a fee/tax of $ 4.10 per ton of solid waste collected. The county collects this fee, in return they need to implement programs to to try and make the earth more sustainable. Weather these programs work is debatable, but they have to do something. Here is a website for the county with more info.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2015 at 11:24 am

By the way, whatever happened to the much debated expensive composting plant for PA?

Also, soiled paper goes into compost? Hope that includes pizza boxes which keep getting rejected.

"Acceptable items include spoiled food and scraps such as banana peels, apple cores, meat, bones, egg shells and soiled paper."


6 people like this
Posted by Organiclaws
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Organiclaws is a registered user.

So the summary here is that the new plan will make garbage collection more expensive, and more inconvenient? Why are we doing this?


5 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Good Grief!

Why doesn't this City focus instead on the myriad of huge problems it has (I.e. Parking in business districts, over building of office space, intrusion of office into retail space, traffic, crumbling infrastructure, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.) before they tackle such a far less important issue? Really dumb if this is a high priority.


2 people like this
Posted by about time
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2015 at 12:22 am

SF has had compost bin collection for over 5 years. It's about time Palo Alto started this sensible program to reduce compostable items in trash heaps.


9 people like this
Posted by Garbage
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2015 at 10:04 am

@organic laws

You got a bunch of folks fresh out of college with Environmental Science degrees, They need to create jobs for themselves.So they invent these programs to ensure that they have job security.The scary part is that it is like the blind leading the blind. Watch and wait for garbage bills to go through the roof.


11 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Will the City provide trapping service (free) to take care of the raccoons and rats which will absolutely love the food scraps? I live in Midtown, and there is a serious problem with raccoons as it is, and I also see evidence of rats.


9 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2015 at 12:45 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

Just another tax increase.


8 people like this
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 2, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

What happened to the Anaerobic Digester?


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2015 at 4:47 pm

I agree with PA Moderate.

This is a tax not a charge.

Charges would give us some flexibility. We have no flexibility at present. We just have a tax which we have no choice but pay and a service that doesn't serve us.

We are pawns and if they gave us some choice we would embrace it, make some personal savings and probably greenwaste would make some savings too.


Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2015 at 11:24 pm

It's a nice start to our growing waste problem, but people seem to be turning a blind eye to our growing deconstruction waste (homes and offices).
We can recycle food scraps, bottles, and paper, but the real environmental "ouch" is deconstruction waste.
Tear it down to make build an environmentally friendly home - sheesh!


6 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2015 at 10:07 am

Not much to add here, I'm grinding away using the gadget that we all have installed under our sinks.
CHIPS ON GARBAGE CANS---PLEASE ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:53 am

We desperately need to stop the madness of increasing a tax (or charge if you prefer) without taking residents' views into consideration.

We already have very little waste in our black can. I can't justify how they can increase the charge without understanding that many of us are already doing all we can

Please Scan the Can

or else, please provide a mini, mini can for a lower charge.

If we do our bit, why should it cost us more?


4 people like this
Posted by Tax source
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:19 am

Absolutely disgusted that they are getting away with this tax increase


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:56 pm

I am also very annoyed about this.

I have so little trash I only need to put my black can out once every two weeks if that. I have almost no food waste, just tea bags and fruit/vegetable peelings and the occasional turkey or chicken carcass. I could leave my green bin to about once a month.

For this I get rewarded by having an increase in charge.

Scan the can. Give me a mini mini black bin. Bring my charge down or why should I bother?

I was on the highway yesterday following a garbage truck. Every 30 seconds or so a paper bag or plastic starbucks cup came out and littered the highway.

I find the fact that I have absolutely no say in how much I get charged for my minute amount of trash. I am fed up with being told to recycle because it is good for the environment. Well I do and this is my reward.


2 people like this
Posted by larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:39 am

So we put our garbage in the green recycle can. What happens to the black garbage can? It doesnt seem we need another can to put garbage in the green recycle can.


2 people like this
Posted by Organiclaws
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Organiclaws is a registered user.

I assume we keep our black can for actual garbage?


Like this comment
Posted by Ronald Swanson
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:00 am

It is really cool to see the measures that a city is taking to turn green, and to have a goal of no waste. Although just recycling their food scraps won't completely solve the problem, it is a huge step in the right direction. If everyone were to start following this green revolution, 5,000 tons of food would become compost for local farm and land. Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:42 am

I don't understand why we are talking about this amount of food? Are we really throwing out food? I so rarely throw out food and when I do it is because it is spoilt in some way.

If we are talking about vegetable matter then please call it that. Otherwise it sounds scandalous that people are throwing out food. It would be a much better idea to prevent people buying more food than they need or not to throw away good food but to use it as leftovers. Make soup, freeze, or otherwise use the food. Don't waste good food.

Tea bags, banana peels, melon skins and chicken bones are not food.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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