Friday, April 20 , 2018, 2:06 am | Fair 55º


Santa Barbara Council Has Fresh Idea for Waste Food

Citing the ick factor, city officials ask a consulting firm to determine the level of community support for an upcoming commercial composting program.

Waste food from Santa Barbara's pilot composting program is processed at the Engel & Gray compost factory in Santa Maria.
Waste food from Santa Barbara’s pilot composting program is processed at the Engel & Gray compost facility in Santa Maria. (City of Santa Barbara photo)

With the start date of a local foodscraps composting program several months out, many Santa Barbara restaurants and businesses will soon be approached by a consulting company that will ask owners, chefs and busboys alike to share their perceptions on food-scrap composting.

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to hire Santa Barbara-based Ideocore for a $45,000 study, which will include interviews with local leaders and a public opinion survey of business and restaurant officials.

Beginning July 1, all local businesses will have the option to recycle their foodscraps and compostable paper, which includes things like hamburger wrappers and cardboard nacho-cheese containers. The program will not be available for residents.

Ideocore specializes in the launching of products and programs, which, city officials say, dovetails with the city’s aim to launch the concept of recycling food scraps, for the dual purpose of reducing greenhouse emissions and diverting recyclable material from the Tajiguas Landfill.

The idea behind the hiring of the consultant is partly to get a sense of the community’s attitude about the composting process, which, city officials admit, some folks consider a tad icky.

“We know that’s an issue for some people — they just think it’s gross,” said Stephen MacIntosh, the city’s environmental services supervisor. He added that the consultants, in addition to making other assessments, may ask those with reservations what can be done to mitigate the ick factor.

One helpful motivator will most likely be money.

Businesses that choose to participate will be granted a break on their trash rates, although city leaders have yet to iron out the specifics of the incentive. Participating businesses also will receive yellow trash bins, not unlike the blue ones many businesses and residents already use for recycling.

City officials say foodscraps and compostable paper account for 30 percent of all solid waste disposed of in the city. When the organic material is buried in the landfill, it decomposes in a way that emits a sizable amount of methane. Landfills are the largest source of man-made methane, generating a third of all the methane that is produced in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Methane, in turn, traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, thereby contributing to climate change.

Yellow bins for food scrap composting may soon join a rainbow of container hues in commercial district alleys around Santa Barbara.
Yellow bins for food scrap composting may soon join a rainbow of container hues in commercial district alleys around Santa Barbara. (City of Santa Barbara photo)
Nearly two years ago, the city began piloting the composting program with 12 businesses, including Coffee Cat, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, SBCC and Sojourner Café. Santa Barbara is one of about 50 cities nationwide to embark on the program. Others include Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The results, MacIntosh said, have been positive. Sojourner, he said, is diverting between 85 and 90 percent of their waste stream from landfill disposal.

Councilman Dale Francisco said some restaurant owners have shared with him their concerns about foodscrap containers attracting pests.

MacIntosh said the foodscrap program shouldn’t leave the restaurants any more susceptible to infestations, because state law requires restaurants to haul out all solid waste at the end of the day, regardless of whether it is mixed trash or foodscraps. Plus, he said, city trash haulers will empty the foodscrap containers twice a week minimum, which is twice as often as they currently empty many mixed-trash bins in the city.

What to do with food scraps may not be something many people want to think about but Santa Barbara officials are going to ask anyway.
What to do with foodscraps may not be something many people want to think about but Santa Barbara officials are going to ask anyway. (iStock photo)
He added that when the pilot project got under way in April 2007, Cottage Hospital officials warned that the presence of a single fruit fly would lead them to quit the program.

“We’ve been very successful in one of the most stringent regulatory environments of the city,” he said.

As for the cost of the consultants, all but about $9,000 will be borne by the two local trash haulers, BFI/Allied Waste and MarBorg Industries, whose franchise agreements with the city contain a provision requiring them to contribute matching funds to efforts that educate the public about the value of recycling. The $9,000 in city money will come not from the general fund, but from the solid-waste fund, which is generated from the fees paid by ratepayers and the trash haulers.

Ultimately, the foodscraps will be converted into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Although it hasn’t been determined where this will happen, the foodscraps of the pilot program are converted at Engel & Gray, a regional composting facility in the Santa Maria Valley.

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