(Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

Is the curbside garbage can headed for the dustbin of history? The city of Palo Alto has launched a pilot project that eliminates curbside garbage bins, using only compost and recycling bins. The aim of the project is to achieve zero landfill waste, a goal San Francisco and other Bay Area cities also hope to reach. We talk about what consumers can do to reduce waste and keep their compostable and recyclable trash out of the landfill.

Show Highlights

 

Paul Toulmin is officially in charge of listener services — he responds to audience questions and complaints. But inside the KQED building he is better known for his efforts to get staff to sort their trash correctly.

 

A Sample Email from Paul

Quick follow up based on discoveries today

*Food does not go in Landfill can, it goes in COMPOST, the tan bin that says Compost

*Hand towels & napkins go in COMPOST, not Landfill can

*Coffee Cup lids go in RECYCLE BLUE Bin, not the Landfill can. Cups go in COMPOST

*Plastic (not potato based compostable) utensils – Forks, Knives, Spoons should be Washed, not left in the sink or tossed in the Landfill can or Compost – can go in Recycle but then there might not be a fork when you next need one. Management does not provide untensils…

*No plastic bags, plastic film or any form of film in COMPOST or RECYCLE bins, it goes in the Landfill Bin.

YOUR HOME CITY OR TOWN MAY HAVE A DIFFERENT SET OF RULES, BUT WE HAVE TO LIVE BY THE SAN FRANCISCO RULES here at KQED Public Radio.

PLEASE COOPERATE.

Thanks

Paul

Guests:
Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pacific Southwest Region
Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste
Jay Ramos, manager of the Materials Recovery Facility in Monterey County
Paul Toulmin, listener services at KQED Radio

  • Kahn

    Achieving zero waste is a very laudable goal, but it ignores the realities that those of us who work face, namely that recycling bins are often absent in or near workplaces and when they are present, they are often poorly organized. And what about the poor? This goal ignores their predicament, such as the struggle for survival itself, where having food for the week or housing for the month are much higher priorities than keeping plastic out of the trash. It is not a surprise that Palo Alto, with a median home price of $1 million, would be launching this program. The rich often exist in a bubble and are insensitive to the realities of those who work and who struggle. They often do not think beyond their comforting assumptions. Would it not be a smarter move to ban plastic? But the rich are so heavily invested in globalization and China in particular that this will never happen.

    • Bob Fry

      this may be accurate but is pessimistic. So what if PA is starting this…can’t it later be adopted by other less-wealthy places?

    • mary

      Remembering to take your own container each time you go out and order a bit too much to eat can be difficult, but the more you do this, the easier it becomes.

  • The immigrant family who shares our building treats our recycling and compost bins as landfill containers. We have tried speaking to them but we do not share a common language. We have provided (multiple) printed color images of allowable reclycling and compost items with descriptions in their mother tongue but behavior has not changed. Are their actions ruining the efforts of the rest of the building when those residents diligently sort and separate? I can only control my own behavior.

    • Sanfordia113

      Why don’t they address the enforcement issue? This is a real problem here!

    • $25547304

      Even if there is someone to report them to, the most effective way to encourage people to recycle is through the property management (especially with new tenants). Here is a link to a San Diego lease agreement that can be adjusted to San Francisco’s locale: http://www.ca-ilg.org/sites/ma

      It’s always most effective (and easiest) to set expectations from an authority such as management PRIOR to people moving in, but since the resident is currently residing there already, then informing management that this is happening and providing them with information about AB 341 (the new law as of July 1, 2012 requires multifamilies with 5-units or more to recycle) and asking them to inform the tenant that their cooperation is required/encouraged, then that is a good approach 🙂

  • Kate

    our trash rates keep going up as our amount of waste goes down. Where is the economic incentive for the consumer?

  • sealion

    I think a major assumption is that once recyclable trash is in the recycle bin it becomes automatically part of the raw material stream again, inclination being that this is close to 0 impact, but many materials can not be returned to the state they were in as a raw materials. so they’re arrival to the landfill is delayed by a use cycle or two. There are also limitations on the market appetite for recyclables in the US. great to reduce landfill arrivals dramatically but the massive amounts of waste we generate under the auspices of “recyclable” is a hidden trouble.

  • John Mulrow

    Can the guests touch on gasification, pyrolysis and other new techniques for converting that “last 10%” of difficult-to-recycle materials into fuel?

  • Arthur

    Plastic bags like ziploc backs can go into recycling, but you need to bundle a bunch of them into a single larger bag. Individual bags get caught in the sorting equipment, but a single larger bag can be fished out.

  • Sanfordia113

    i live in a 6-unit apartment bldg in sf, and one resident refuses to recycle. throws coffee grounds in the blue can, plastic in the green, etc. Can he be reported?

    • $25547304

      Even if there is someone to report them to, the most effective way to encourage people to recycle is through the property management (especially with new tenants). Here is a link to a San Diego lease agreement that can be adjusted to San Francisco’s locale: http://www.ca-ilg.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/resources__San_Diego_Apt_Lease_Language.pdf

      It’s always most effective (and easiest) to set expectations from an authority such as management PRIOR to people moving in, but since the resident is currently residing there already, then informing management that this is happening and providing them with information about AB 341 (the new law as of July 1, 2012 requires multifamilies with 5-units or more to recycle) and asking them to inform the tenant that their cooperation is required/encouraged, then that is a good approach 🙂

  • erictremont

    Perhaps styrofoam take-out food containers should be outlawed, but they aren’t. I have had no luck finding any recycling center in the East Bay that is willing to take these containers—can somebody explain why?

    • $25547304

      It is not cost-effective to transport styrofoam to get recycled. In other words, it is more environmentally destructive (the use of gas, etc.).

  • Arthur

    Given that food waste is composted into materials for farms, it is better to do the anaerobic digestion near the city or near the farm? Are we better off with each city building one, or having fewer centralized ones?

  • Marc Mallary

    Why can’t we recycle shopping bags without going to the store and what about Styrofoam?

  • Cathy

    We recently had a predicament with trying to recycle a non daily item. Our daughter outgrew her carseat. But we couldn’t resell it or donate it because by the time we were finished with it, it had just reached no longer meeting regulation standards which is very common with child-related items – cribs, carseats, strollers, etc. Our only option was to toss it in the garbage. Babies and children generate so much waste. What would the panel suggest for recycling these kind of items?

    • mary

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the manufacturer was responsibel for its own products? What if they had to make products that could be refurbished and reused or recycled in some way?

  • Please have one of your guests address the issue of
    potato starch compostables. I recently read that most municipal composting facilities have a 90 day cycle for completing their compost while these potato starch based cups, plates, spoons etc. take 120 days or more, so that they are actually ending up in the landfill!

    • Marc Mallary

      I think the muni waste is hot enough too break it down.

  • Sanfordia113

    why not burn plastics for energy in a devoted plastics incinerator power plant?

    • Marc Mallary

      If its burned without releasing the exhaust its good.

  • Laird

    California consumers pay a CRV for bottles and cans, while this is a good incentive, what happens to the funds when these items are thrown away?

    • $25547304

      The funds go to the State and get distributed to various grant applicants to fund special projects for recycling education and outreach among other things.

  • Miguel Monroy

    Are garbage disposals a green way of disposing of food wastes?

    • $25547304

      not really… they actually cost the city a lot in drainage abatement and treatment of the water. It’s really just meant to catch random food scraps, not to actually throw things in there. Composting and worm bins are a great alternative, but not always feasible as I know…I finally got a place with a small balcony and got a “Can-o-worms” worm bin, but they can’t eat it fast enough!

      Many places now allow for a green bin and can even supply a compost container for your kitchen – contact your garbage company for more info 🙂

  • Bob Fry

    Please mention http://www.freecycle.org/, a way of advertising or asking for used but usable items. No selling or buying, just giving and taking used items that you don’t want and somebody else can use.

    • $25547304

      I have used freecycle for years and received several amazing free items like a brand new waffle maker, moving boxes, brand new bread maker and more – I have also gotten rid of clutter items that were also brand new that I never used. Also have received multiple used items and given away used items I thought no one would want (broken tv, etc.). It’s amazing:)

  • Kavita

    plastic, plastic, plastic! From liners in cereal boxes to lots of different types of plastic packaging used today. Most are currently still not recyclable. I think we have to make serious changes in how items we purchase daily are packaged today if we want to get to zero waste.

  • Julie Tippett

    In Toronto they have about 70% diversion. Their process was to have organics each week, trash and recycling every other week. The second tool they used was a single, undifferentiated recycling bin, sorted centrally. It was a revenue generator for Toronto to the point there would be enforcement against people getting cans and bottles from bins.

  • Mjhmjh

    I took a big bag of dead batteries to my library drop-off point for recycling. But discovered that I was supposed to separate them into Lithium and non–Lithium(?) batteries. I have no idea what the difference is! So I brought the big bag home with me. (I won’t confess what I did with them next….) What IS the difference? How do I tell?

  • Bob Fry

    Bottled water, that’s crazy in the Bay Area. You have some of the purest tap water in the world.

    • Marc Mallary

      Its in a poly carbonate, carcinogenic bottle also.

      • mary

        check out the movie “Tapped.” It is eye opening. I have done taste tests at our hospital with 5 different fancy bottled waters and also our local tap water. it was hilarious to listen to people as they thought they were “sure” they knew what they were drinking. Hardly anyone got it right.

  • clara Kalin

    w

    What on-going educational programs/opportunities could be created?

    I call Waste Management and often find the don’t know other or give one which I question. Perhaps a weekly newspaper columns?

  • Marissa LaMagna

    Earth Team’s Waste Action Project goes into schools to work with students to investigate their own waste-making patterns and expand their thinking about trash, landfills, the idea of a disposable culture, as well as their own capacity to affect change and reduce their campuses’ waste streams. addressing the issue of waste on their school campuses and within their communities by practicing the 4R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,Rot).

    Afterwards they go on a Bay Area Green Tour places like the Altamant Landfill, San Leandro Transfer station, Oakland Technology Exchange where they rebuild computers, Back to the Roots Mushrooms where they grow mushrooms on discarded Peets coffee grounds, Urban Ore,

    and mattress recycling. Once they see where everything goes it really makes an impact.

    They then re-design, and even improve their existing waste and recycling systems by conducting a waste audit and running a peer education campaign. Often they become interested in careers in Wast Management

  • Eileen

    We are a small office and tried recylcing out plastic bottles and cans for years but our CEO was concerned about the volume … so we researched options and purchased a Crysalli water system .. similar to what is used in some restaurants .. and now employees have the choice of filtered, cold flat or sparkling water … we provide some limited flavorings/syrups they can add if they like .. and they use their own glasses or we provide fully compostable cups made from sugar cane. We estimated the cost of installing the system vs purchasing all those bottled/cans beverages … we would break even in 12 months … and the employees love it.

  • Anne

    Newark will no longer take PETE/#1 plastics–very frustrating! Only 2, 4, 5, unless narrow-necked. Go after merchants that sell deli and bakery trays?

  • Liz Lee

    I think education programs about recycling and consuming less for the very young would be helpful. I was thinking of starting such a program at my child’s preschool focusing on eliminating single use plastics from lunches and use of “fun foam” in crafts which are rampant now. Can one of your guests please tell me if that EVA or PVC foam craft material is recyclable or not. Very little info on the web about that. Thanks for this informative program.

  • deedee

    Berkeley Ace Hardware has partnered with GreenFlashRecycling to offer recycling of all types of clean plastics, Including:Plastic Bags.Plastic film wrap.
    That’s where i take my plastic bag waste. You can also use plastic bags for dog waste [like bread bags] so at least it gets used 2x.

  • Ramona C

    Kitty Litter and any cat feces is NOT COMPOSTABLE EVER!

    It contains parasites that cause miscarriages, birth defects and mental disorders.

    Please research toxoplasmosis gondii

    NO KITTY LITTER IN COMPOST!

    • Commercial compost is a lot different from back yard compost. There are a lot of animal products that do just fine in the industrial version of composting. This isn’t obvious b/c we know these things would wreak havoc in our back yard and garden.

  • Chi Nguyen

    To answer the question regarding kitty litter, this comes from the Fresh Step webpage:

    “Is Fresh Step cat litter biodegradable?
    No. Like most cat litters, Fresh Step Clay and Fresh Step Scoopable litters are primarily made of clay, a natural but non-biodegradable mineral found in the earth. Fresh Step Crystals are not biodegradable, but are compatible with most landfill requirements.”

    Most if not ALL clay litters should NOT be placed in the green bin.

  • Eileen

    Eileen • a minute ago

    We are a small office and tried recylcing our plastic bottles and cans for years but our CEO was concerned about the volume … so we researched options and purchased a Crysalli water system .. similar to what is used in some restaurants .. and now employees have the choice of filtered, cold flat or sparkling water … we provide some limited flavorings/syrups they can add if they like .. and they use their own glasses or we provide fully compostable cups made from sugar cane. We estimated the cost of installing the system vs purchasing all those bottled/cans beverages … we would break even in 12 months … and the employees love it.

  • Christina H.

    Zero waste is a not a fantasy. In Marin County our recycler and hauler Marin Sanitary Service, uses a cart that separates bottles and cans from paper and cardboard. It keeps everything clean so even more material can be resold and reused. And, at my house, we just started adding out food scraps to our yard waste cart. Something MSS has been allowed us all to do for some time!

  • Kim

    The Palo Alto system is interesting and really is an innovative collection method-wet/dry (compost/recycling). However, it is a move away from true source separation of materials. When materials are all smashed together, they lose some of their value (glass in paper and cardboard). This system, like any other, does not totally eliminate land filling. There will always be items that are not divertable–diapers/kitty litter for example. This was a costly move by Palo Alto that might not make economic sense for smaller communities like Marin, especially since we have such a great source separation program at MSS and the County overall has a very high diversion rate.

  • veggiegrrrl

    Question (hopefully will be answered): What recyclable or compostable options are available for packaging junk food (yuck) such as potato chips, candy bars. Would love to see a planet without Cheetos and M&Ms but that isn’t going to happen.

  • veggiegrrrl

    The biggest problem is that we have a zillion products on earth that are articificial needs. For example, fake finger nails, fake eye lashes, nail polish, panty hose, eye make-up, mascara, chips and candy in plastic un-resealable bags, toys from gumball machines, holiday swag (plastic easter eggs, disposable plastic easter baskets and fake grass), breakable christmas and valentines trinkets, plastic straws, etc…and all their packaging. If we stop buying it, manufacturers will stop creating the garbage to begin with. when we buy products that are truly artificial needs, we need to really evaluate the materials and packaging.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    There is a wonderful woman named Bea who lives north of San Francisco and has a great blog about her Zero Waste Home. She has changed our life and we were pretty much off the grid and no garbage mode to begin with. http://zerowastehome.blogspot.com

    What kitchen waste we have gets composted. And now we also take washable small bags with us to put bulk food items in. Raley’s and other grocery stores have milk in glass bottles.

    And we LOVE the freecycle.org website and use our local freecycle group a lot for passing on items we no longer need or use.

  • JohnC

    Meat and animal products are dangerous materials that should be be treated as biohazards and not included in the recycle stream. MRSA, superbugs like C Diff, flatworms, viruses, mad cow: the list of diseases animal products carry is endless.

    They pose an unacceptable risk to public and workers and should be treated as medical waste.

  • $25547304

    The new 75% reduction law, AB 341 does NOT “require ALL commercial entities & ALL multifamilies to recycle!” It requires ALL MULTIFAMILIES THAT HAVE 5-UNITS OR MORE and ALL BUSINESSES (including non-profits), GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS, SCHOOLS, ETC. THAT PRODUCE 4 CUBIC YARDS or MORE per WEEK to have recycling services in place. So, it is particular multifamilies and commercial organizations, not all. More about AB 341 here: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120AB341 Just wanted to clarify this in case a business or property manager was listening. This is not to say that those not required are not encouraged to have recycling services in place. It is a good business and economic sense to do so.

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