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Council: Plan for mandatory composting by businesses needs refinement

Proposed ordinance would require commercial customers to separate compostable materials from trash or face fines

Palo Alto's goal to prevent nearly all waste from going to landfills by 2021 cannot be achieved unless commercial customers are compelled to take part in the city's recycling and composting services, city staff told the Palo Alto City Council on Monday.

But the council, while agreeing with the concept, said Monday the plan is not yet ready for prime time.

A new food-scraps composting program -- in which customers can add leftover food and food-soiled paper to their yard-trimmings bin for pick up recyclables -- went into effect for residential, single-family clients this summer.

Commercial customers currently subscribe to the services on a voluntary basis, Phil Bobel, assistant director of public works, told council members. Without full compliance, it's unlikely the city could budge off its current 80 percent waste-diversion rate, which has remained stagnant since 2010, he said.

Only about 30 percent of commercial customers subscribe to the compost service. Under the proposal, businesses that do their own hauling would not be required to subscribe to the waste services, which are provided by the firm GreenWaste.

For those that use the service but do not sort properly, penalties could range from notification tags on bins to additional fees and fines, including a $77 charge for a "return trip" to pick up refuse after a customer has removed contaminated material.

Five incidents and more would subject the commercial customer to administrative penalties according to the city's municipal code.

Property owners of apartment complexes of five units or more, also covered under the ordinance, would not be subjected to fines if they are providing appropriate containers and signage. Failure to do so would subject them to the same fees and enforcement as commercial customers.

Councilman Greg Scharff said Monday night that the ordinance seemed to be too broad.

Its language might be interpreted to pass on the fines and fees to residential customers, a discrepancy that he found unacceptable.

"Could someone later in the city say we're fining you?" he asked.

Mayor Karen Holman pointed out that the ordinance addresses construction and remodel waste, but it does not discuss salvage.

"It seems to run counter to the notion of having someone deconstruct a house. Our 12-year-old C&D (construction and demolition) ordinance is being ignored," she said.

Bobel said it's OK for someone to come in if the material is separated and bring in someone other than GreenWaste to take salvageable material away.

But Holman did not want the opportunity for salvage to slip away by relying on the existing single construction and demolition ordinance, and she wanted consistency built into the proposed composting and recycling ordinance, she said.

The council decided to refer the ordinance to its Finance Committee. Bobel said that staff will try to bring ordinance to the committee on Dec 8. Staff will also revise the ordinance to incorporate council feedback.

The city began a food scraps and food-soiled paper collection for single-family residential customers on July 15. About 18,000 households now put their food-related refuse directly into the green compostables cart with yard trimmings. The program diverts an estimated 3,000 tons of compostable materials annually, according to the city manager's report.

As currently proposed, the ordinance for businesses and multifamily properties would take effect in three phases, and all food-service establishments and multifamily residential customers would be in the first phase, which would begin April 1, 2016.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2015 at 11:21 am

I was walking around our neighborhood on garbage day this week as I often do. I would estimate that about 25% homes had put out all 3 garbage cans. Most put out black and blue only.

I would estimate that although many more tried all 3 cans when the composting idea started, that this is now dwindling as time has passed.

Just my observations.


2 people like this
Posted by Merry
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2015 at 11:48 am

Is more or less expensive for the home owner and city and business to play in the compost program? My guess is that is it troublesome and very costly. I believe the green waste experiment is seperarting a lot of us from a lot of money.


2 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2015 at 12:03 pm

We have composted for years. You will never get to zero in the black cans until there is a solution for pet waste.


4 people like this
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 5, 2015 at 12:08 pm

"A new food-scraps composting program -- in which customers can add leftover food and food-soiled paper to their yard-trimmings bin for pick up recyclables -- went into effect for residential, single-family clients this summer. "

It is not working. Use of the green bin for compostibles deters people like me who want to do the right thing and do not use the green bin frequently. There has to be another, simpler way for single family residences to participate in composting without depending on the green bin


5 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 5, 2015 at 5:19 pm

I think I read that there is a smaller Green bin. Why is it a problem to put out the green bin? I don't get it. Perhaps for the same reason Palo Altans have to hire "gardeners" to do their yard work regardless of the size of their "garden?" I have been putting out the green bin every week since composting started, along with the Blue and the Black. Really, not a big deal.


Like this comment
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 6, 2015 at 8:09 am

My 55-unit four-story condo HOA took up the composting offer, at $100 a month. Participation has been poor. The bin is only 1/4 full each week. Now there is pressure to save the $1200 a year in expense. It's hard to argue for it. I know it's a pain to save the scraps and take them downstairs. Will participation grow with time? Recycling grew over time. It's depressing how little people are willing to do to care for the only planet we can live on.


Like this comment
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2015 at 4:45 pm

I have to wonder if "business composting" is just another Palo Alto feel-good measure that the city has no real intention to enforce.

My gym, located downtown, does not recycle. Think of the all the beverage containers, newspapers, magazines, etc. that are going into the landfill!


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2015 at 6:02 pm

The entire zero waste command movement is wrong. Intelligent Palo Alto citizens should realize it, and oppose it. The problem is liberal guilt in PA...related to global warming alarmism. The solid waste issue and human sewage sludge issues can be solved via thermal destruction (e.g. plasma arc) of our stuff...no need for all these neurotic concerns.


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

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